Halting Forced Marriage in UK

Jasvinder Sanghera

We Educate Fundraising was lucky enough to interview Natasha Rattu, a Barrister and executive director of Karma Nirvana, to find out more about their important work.

Karma Nirvana is a UK charity that supports the victims of honour-based abuse and forced marriage; founded in 1993 by Jasvinder Sanghera CBE who ran away from home at 16 to escape forced marriage and was consequently disowned by her family. They focus on the fact that culture, religion and tradition are not an excuse for forced marriage. These can all, and just because some values are upheld by society it doesn’t mean that they are right. After 10 years of campaigning in 2014 Karma Nirvana also managed to pass a law stating the forced marriage is illegal in the UK.

Impactful strategies

One of the primary ways Karma Nirvana works is through its helpline, which has been running since 2009 and receives around 700–800 calls a month. From there they can offer advice or direct callers to other services such as locating refuges or contacting the police. They face an increase in calls just before school holidays, which is often when students are taken abroad to be married. Moreover, each month around 40% of these calls are from
professionals, often concerned teachers or social workers who may not know what to do.

Fortunately, Karma Nirvana aims to educate people in order to support and reach even more victims. They host training, presentations and events for the police, the National Health Service and social services. These sessions are also vital in schools as they can educate both potential teenage victims about the realities of their situation and educate teachers about the issue and how to manage it. This includes teaching about additional barriers such as isolation, mental health issues and the potential for a girl to leave her family. Natasha noted that this training enhances professional confidence which increases
capability. It has also created Survivor Ambassadors who share their story of forced marriage and honour-based abuse through a safe platform and can inspire through their stories as it is much more impactful to be told someone’s personal experience. Natasha mentioned that in areas where they have done training the rates of incidence increase, not because more forced marriages are happening but because more people are recognising the signs and alerting relevant authorities.
Karma Nirvana also offers face to face advocacy for victims of forced marriage or honourbased violence. They provide confidential emotional support and aid.

Growing cases:
Despite their work, Karma Nirvana is finding growing cases of child marriage in the UK, often via a religious or customary marriage which does not afford any legal protection to the person involved as it is not a legal marriage. This means under law it is ‘technically’ not a crime nor forced, although parental coercion is often involved. In England and Wales 16–18- year olds can also legally marry if they have parental consent. If someone is socialised to
believe that being married before 18 is normal then a victim may not even recognise that they are undertaking a forced marriage. Unfortunately, she also mentioned, that forced marriage is hard to prosecute. There is no
consideration of a forced marriage law for children, and police need to prove duress or forcible marriage through evidence which can be hard to gather on poor data systems. This is especially true if officers are untrained to identify such issues and do not want to cause offense or interfere in something that seems cultural or religious.

Changes that need to be made:
Most importantly Natasha stressed that change o t the law on under 18s being able to marry parental consent needs to be changed, as this allows parental leeway in ‘allowing’ (read: forcing) a marriage. Also increased evidence testing and prosecutions need to occur to match the number of victims that are being highlighted. Karma Nirvana is doing phenomenal work, but legal changes need to occur if they are to halt forced marriage in the UK.

Find out more at info@karmanirvana.org.uk. If you need help and are in the UK, the helplineis 0800 5999 247 (Monday — Friday: 9am — 5pm). If you are in immediate danger it is advised that you call emergency services on 999 in UK, 112 in Europe. If you work in the UK you can apply for training in order to increase awareness. Even if you cannot undertake training, check out this learning course that Karma Nirvana have created.

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