Forced marriages in the UK were made illegal in 2014 as part of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act. Despite this, a report earlier this year showed that there have been 110 cases of forced marriages and honour-based abuse in Hertfordshire alone over the past 3 years. A charity called Karma Nirvana which helps victims of forced marriages and honour-based abuse receives 700-800 calls a month to its helpline. An indication of the scale of the problem.
Honour-based abuse refers to crimes committed with the aim of preserving the “honour” of a family or community. I use the term “honour” hesitantly as I would regard it as the opposite. There is nothing honourable about violence or abuse yet the perpetrators firmly believe that this will uphold their self-esteem in the eyes of others. The need to seem righteous within the community exceeds the need for basic morality and standing by basic human rights in cases of honour-based abuse. Both men and women are subject to horrible acts of violence and abuse simply for the sake of staying in line with the expectations of the community.
The fact that the victim is isolated within an imposing and suppressive community can lead to a vast amount of under-reporting of crimes throughout the country. Hence the idea that the problem is much bigger than it initially appears to be. This is supported by the most senior British Muslim police chief, Mak Chishty who emphasised the importance of communities to stop denying this issue due to the vast amounts of under-reporting.
A year ago, I was made for evermore aware of this issue within the UK. Jasvinder Sanghera’s (the founder of Karma Nirvana) book called “Shame” opened my eyes to the shocking effects of forced marriages. The story of how she escaped from a family where forced marriage was the norm presented a gut-wrenching yet inspirational message for me. The pressure on young men and women during these situations is immense and as Jasvinder highlights in her book, the choice between leaving your family and everything you’ve ever known for freedom is not an easy one to make by any means. At times, there may not even be a choice to make due to the violence and abuse which is often linked to cases of forced marriages.
Tackling this issue requires a shift in the mindsets of whole communities. When tradition and culture are used as excuses for these crimes, this can take generations to work through. Effective, working relationships between community leaders, police and organisations like Karma Nirvana are necessary in order to minimise the issue of forced marriages and honour violence. Karma Nirvana runs a helpline for victims as well as raising awareness and giving talks to professionals so they can better understand and tackle honour-based abuse themselves and this kind of widespread education across the country is crucial.
Earlier this year I ran a half-marathon to support Jasvinder’s charity through donations. Happiness And Beyond is focused to help you become the best person you can be. Often, aiding others in their time of need can be one of the best ways to do this. I urge you to visit Karma Nirvana’s website to read on the amazing work they do. Even just being aware of these issues and spreading the message helps greatly and of course, donations to the charity help fund the work they do.
If you’ve learnt something new from this article. Please share it and help raise awareness about this problem. It may end up helping someone more than you know.