Britain launches helpline for victims of forced marriages

April 11th, 2008 - 6:35 pm ICT by admin  

London, April 11 (IANS) Worried about the spread of the controversial practice of forced marriage and honour-based violence among Asian communities, the British government Friday launched a national helpline for such victims. The Honour Network will be run by the charity Karma Nirvana - a dedicated forced marriage and honour-based violence helpline staffed by former victims offering emotional and practical support, Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker said.

“This helpline run by survivors, for survivors, is a big step in the fight to raise awareness of the issues of forced marriage and honour-based violence and is crucial in giving victims across the country the confidence to come forward,” Coaker said.

“We recognise that the scale of these issues remains unknown and much of the problem stays underground. We are determined to continue engaging with local communities and taking action to protect victims to put an end to this appalling practice.”

The practice of forcing youngsters - mostly women - into marriages is particularly common among Muslims from Pakistan and Bangladesh, Sikhs from Punjab, Iranians and Kurds.

These marriages are distinct from arranged marriages as they can involve acts of violence - so-called izzat (honour) crimes, with the victims sometimes being shipped abroad.

Karma Nirvana reports receiving more than 200 distress calls a month from victims seeking support, and deal with 15 cases a week.

About 400 forced marriages are reported in Britain every year but many experts believe the real figure could be 10 times higher as many do not report such marriages.

Jasvinder Sanghera, founder of Karma Nirvana, said: “The Honour Network is about reclaiming the word honour. It’s designed for victims, survivors or potential victims of honour-based crimes to reassure them they are victims not perpetrators.”

The British government has created a unique forced marriage unit run jointly by the foreign and home ministries, which handles 5,000 enquiries and up to 400 cases per year.

The Labour government is to enact legislation later this year empowering courts to prevent forced marriages and protect victims. Where a forced marriage has taken place, the courts will be able to issue orders to protect the victim and help annul the marriage.

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