Chained up: Raising awareness of Forced Marriage

Amelia Oakley 9 May 2015

The aims of ‘the chains’ was to start conversations about a type of abuse that is so often unseen and unchallenged, and to represent in a physical way the restriction felt by victims. ‘Yes’, I’ll answer, ‘the chains are uncomfortable’. But the important thing is that everyone should know the pain and burden of all this: 12 dishonourable ‘honour’ killings are reported in this country each year. An estimated 8,000 UK citizens will be forced into marriage each year. That works out as roughly 22 people each day.12 of those will be children. And these are just estimates: in reality, those figures will likely be much higher. 

So, I’m wearing chains for 12 hours a day for 12 days to raise money for Karma Nirvana, a charity that works to end Forced Marriage and Honour Based Abuse.  I’d heard of the challenges campaigners have had, but the conversations that have come about during these 10 days so far have only highlighted to me how many misconceptions still exist around the issue.

‘But isn’t it just like arranged marriage?’. 

No. Arranged marriages are arranged, where both parties consent to the marriage. They’re legal; forced marriages are not. A forced marriage is where one or both people do not or cannot consent to the marriage and pressure or abuse is used. The pressure put on people to marry against their will can be physical or emotional and psychological. Financial abuse can also be a factor.(Definition from Forced Marriage Protection Unit). Indeed One victim, who asked to remain anonymous, described their experience: “I was 13 years old when I ran away from home due to a forced marriage. (…)The engagement was in the October (…) I ran away in the July the following year (…) The feeling I had was a sense of betrayal as the people who were supposed to unconditionally love me hurt me at the same time. 

‘But it’s part of their culture?’

First, let’s take a look at the definition of honour based abuse and what triggers it:  The terms “honour crime”, “honour-based violence” or “izzat” embrace a variety of crimes of violence (mainly but not exclusively against women), including assault, imprisonment and murder where the person is being punished by their family or their community..for actually, or allegedly, undermining what the family or community believes to be the correct code of behaviour. (Definition taken from Government Multi Agency Procedures on FM & HBV) 

Secondly, these abuses affect people of many cultures, religions and genders. And anyhow, kidnap, abduction, harassment, abuse, rape, assault and murder (which come into many cases of FM and HBA) can not be part of any ‘culture’ — they’re crimes. There’s no reason why, in certain contexts, they should lost their weight. As Jasvinder Sanghera, founder of Karma Nirvana says: ‘Cultural acceptance does not meaning accepting the unacceptable.’ 

An overly-cautious attitude towards forced marriage merely affords the lives of those from a perceived ‘other culture’ with less value and the consequences can be fatal. One victim remarked “I had a social worker saying to me it's your culture! (…) if I'd listened to them all them years ago then I would be dead now!(…)”

Contrary to what appears to be common belief, it is not so easy for victims to speak out. To do so would be ‘dishonourable’ and put victims’ lives at risk. When, and more importantly if,  victims do escape, many may still be in hiding for years after.     Another anonymous victim said “I had to run away as far as possible so I couldn't be found. Even now 20 years on, I never take anything for granted as I remember very clearly what my dad said to me over the telephone. He said when I find you you’re dead. These words have stuck with me ever since." Meanwhile, children quite simply cannot speak out against their abusers. And it does happen to children. The youngest victim that Karma Nirvana supported was 5 years old. The youngest reported to the Forced Marriage Unit was just 2. 

So, what’s being done to stop it? Karma Nirvana provides victims with support and an essential national helpline and training to professionals in police forces, schools and the social services. And Karma Nirvana’s work does affect change and save lives. This week, on Wednesday 6th May, a huge leap forward was made in the battle against forced marriage, as the UK witnessed the first conviction in a forced marriage case since it was criminalised.

Protecting children and adult victims against Forced Marriage and Honour Based Abuse is an imperative. Everybody should be able to enjoy freedom and love, abuse should be treated as such, and it is everyone’s responsibility to stand up for those who are made vulnerable and voiceless. 


If you or anyone you know has been affected by these issues, call 08005 999 247 or see for more information.