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1970s

Virginity tests at Heathrow

Heathrow airportAn Indian woman who arrived at Heathrow on 24 January 1979 seeking entry as the fiancee of a man living in Southall consented to undergo a gynaecological examination 'which may be vaginal if necessary' on the instruction of an immigration officer. The woman, who was a 35-year-old teacher, was examined by a male doctor. The Home Office claimed that such tests helped them to identify women who attempted to enter the country illegally by establishing whether a woman is a bona fide fiancee. A test of this nature assumed that, if a Hindu woman was found to be a virgin, she would be believed to be unmarried and, if she was found not to be one, she would not be believed. A Home Office spokesman stated that such an examination was 'not standard practice for all immigrant women. It depends on the immigration officer and whether or not he is satisfied that the passenger is all she claims to be'.

The Runnymede Trust Bulletin reported that:

Reactions to the disclosure of this incident were that of widespread horror. In the House of Commons the Prime Minister James Callaghan said that every MP would be 'disturbed' by the matter and Ms. Jo Richardson, Labour MP for Barking tabled a series of Parliamentary Questions to determine how long the practice of the virginity testing of immigrants had been going on. Mr Nazarats, the Deputy Indian High Commissioner met Mr Even Luard, an Under-secretary of State for the Foreign Office to register a formal protest. The JCWI called for a public inquiry into the conduct of the immigration service. The Commission for Racial Equality and the Equal Opportunities Commission issued a joint statement condemning the practice.

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