Forced marriages – special report

Children are at risk because social workers lack knowledge when working with victims of forced marriage, a conference on “honour” violence heard last week.

Provision is scant for forced marriage and honour crime victims, particularly children, delegates at the event heard.

Fauzia Khan, case officer at the government’s Forced Marriage Unit, said social services are not following guidance on forced marriage.

The unit finds that social services staff “don’t know what to do” when working with victims, she said.

“We ask social services to take a case forward and it doesn’t happen and we don’t know why,” added Khan.

“The guidelines are there. Use them,” she urged.

Guidance for social workers was issued in 2004 by the FMU and Association of Directors of Social Services and is now being revised.

Hannah Miller, ADSS lead on forced marriage, told Community Care she had earlier agreed the FMU should contact her if local authorities did not follow the guidance. To date she has not heard from the unit.

A survey of ADSS members on forced marriage in 2005, asking if there should be a national steering group on the issue, received only 20 or so replies, said Miller.

The “disappointing” response probably reflected extensive reorganisation in many social services departments in 2005, she added.

She intends to use the revision of the guidance as an opportunity to heighten the profile of the issue among children’s services directors.

There are at least 12 so-called honour murders in the UK each year. The Metropolitan Police defines honour killings as for “actual or perceived immoral behaviour, deemed to have breached the honour code of a family or community causing shame”.

Forced marriage is where victims are told they have to get married and don’t want to. It is different to arranged marriage.

The Forced Marriage Unit sees around 250 cases a year.

Forced marriage, honour-based violence and domestic violence are “inseparable”, the FMU’s Fauzia Khan told the conference, organised by Policy Spotlight.

Young people who are brave enough to leave their families after resisting forced marriage face a lack of provision and help, said Andy Baker, deputy director of the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, and former lead on honour violence for the Association of Chief Police Officers.

Due to a dearth of suitable accommodation, children may be sent to stay in B&Bs, said Baker. Some return to their families, knowing they could be in danger – due to a lack of alternatives.

Even when help is available, there are barriers to access for both adult and child victims.

Iranian and Kurdish women’s rights activists Diana Nammi said these include:
*feelings of guilt and shame,
*poor perception of police and other agencies *fear of lack of confidentiality *fear of losing children *language barriers *asylum and immigration issues *no recourse to public funding

Anna Hardy, full-time volunteer at the pioneering Karma Nirvana in Derby, provider of specialist support to Asian women and children, said the project receives calls for help from all over the UK. Children as young as seven have been taken abroad for marriage, explained Hardy.

Karma Nirvana, set up by Jasvinder Sanghera, who escaped forced marriage, is widely praised for its work, but the sector as a whole is divided.

Nazir Afzal, national lead on honour crime at the Crown Prosecution Service. spoke of survivors’ groups who refuse to talk to each other and of “petty jealousies” and “personality clashes”.

Rosheen Shahzad-Raja, outreach manager at Victim Support Haringey, described Non Governmental Organisations in the field as “sandwich-munching individuals who have meetings, don’t do much and are stuck in their own niche and unable to move forward”.

She also criticised NGOs who “secure funding and then disappear.”

As so often, the need for information sharing and a joint agency approach was emphasised during the day’s proceedings.

“All statutory agencies must work together to support young people at risk of forced marriage”, said the CPS’s Afzal.

When girls don’t return from school after the long summer holiday, schools should consider informing social services, rather than simply crossing pupils off the school roll, he said.

Afzal is in favour of a centre of excellence to promote good practice on honour violence.

Andy Baker, police expert on honour crime, urged social services, education and health professionals who pick up information from young people who may be at risk of honour crime, to pass it onto the police.

Afzal expressed optimism that awareness of honour crime is growing and revealed that Baroness Scotland, the Home Office minister leading on honour violence, and the Attorney General will lead seminars on the subject later this year.

But anyone hoping that the younger generation might be united against honour crime is wrong.

Eight per cent of young Asians (aged 16-34) believe honour killings can be justified, according to a poll for BBC Asian Network in August.

Meanwhile many of Banaz Mahmoud Babakir Agha’s relatives await trial for her murder at the Old Bailey in November.

The 20-year-old, of Kurdish origin, was found buried in a suitcase in a garden in Birmingham. Yet another young woman looks likely to be found the victim of honour crime.

How can these grim murders be prevented? There are no easy answers and the concept of honour is complex, although as the police emphasise, there is no honour in murder. But experts in the field agree that greater awareness of the issues by frontline staff – including social workers – would lead to earlier inventions and fewer deaths.


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