The practice of forced marriage – as opposed to merely arranged marriage – has taken root in Britain and is now widespread in some UK communities with traditional cultures of honour, pride and shame. Forced marriage occurs predominantly, though not exclusively, within south Asian communities, particularly those of Pakistani origin. Common methods of securing victims’ compliance include psychological abuse, blackmail and threats of imprisonment, sometimes accompanied by violence. Of great concern to the Foreign Office are the British citizens forcibly removed each year to Pakistan, where similar coercive tactics can be employed with near impunity.
Accurate statistics for forced marriages in the UK are hard to compile – victims tend to be reluctant to come forward, fearing retaliation by family members. However, the UK government’s Forced Marriage Unit estimates that at least 5,000 marriages take place each year without the consent of both parties. Forced marriages are commonly arranged in order to cement business relationships abroad, to obtain visas for (usually male) relatives and business contacts, or to prevent relationships with ethnic or religious outsiders. In pursuit of these aims, some families condone kidnapping, isolation, imprisonment and withdrawing children (usually girls) from education.
Once married, women in forced marriages often face rape – in-laws sometimes don’t consider a marriage contract fulfilled until the woman is pregnant – as well as other forms of abuse.
Karma Nirvana is a small charity staffed by 18 volunteer “survivors” who work nationally for the eradication of forced marriage and honour-based violence, which director Jasvinder Sanghera describes as “a silent crime”. The organisation runs three refuges in Derby, Stoke-on-Trent and Burton-on-Trent and in the past year has rescued more than 400 people. Of those, 42 per cent were minors – some as young as ten. Of the 400, 15 per cent are male and 65 per cent come from a Pakistani background. The figures point to the fact that although the problem is perceived to be one that affects women, the organisation is shortly to open its first refuge for young Asian men fleeing forced marriages, as well as a new regional base in Newcastle.