The Girl Who Said ‘No’ to Marriage

This article originally appeared on the BBC News website, 19 February 2016.

By Sarah Buckley, BBC News.


Balkissa Chaibou dreamed of becoming a doctor, but when she was 12 she was shocked to learn she had been promised as a bride to her cousin. She decided to fight for her rights – even if that meant taking her own family to court.

“I came from school at around 18:00, and Mum called me,” Balkissa Chaibou recalls.

“She pointed to a group of visitors and said of one of them, ‘He is the one who will marry you.’

“I thought she was joking. And she told me, ‘Go unbraid, and wash your hair.’ That is when I realised she was serious.”

The young girl from Niger had always been ambitious.

“When I was little, I was dreaming of becoming a doctor. Take care of people, wear the white coat. Help people,” she says.

Marriage to her cousin, who had arrived with his father from neighbouring Nigeria, would make this impossible.

“They said if you marry him you won’t be able to study any more. For me my passion is studying. I really like to study. That’s when I realised that my relationship with him wouldn’t work well.”

Niger’s tradition of marrying its girls young – it has the highest rate of child marriage in the world – is partly rooted in its grinding poverty.

Screen Shot 2016-02-20 at 11.16.34

“The dynamic works in this way: I have lots of children, and if I can marry off one child that is one child less that I have to feed,” explains Monique Clesca, the United Nations Population Fund’s representative in Niger.

Balkissa Chaibou’s parents had five daughters, so from their perspective marrying her to her cousin may have made economic sense.

But another reason for the tradition of early marriage in Niger is the belief that it reduces the risk of pregnancy outside wedlock.

“Nowadays some children are not well brought up,” says Hadiza Almahamoud, Chaibou’s mother. “If they are not married off at an early age, they can bring shame to the family.”

Chaibou continued to work hard at school, waking at 03:00 to study, but as she got older the looming marriage with her cousin became a distraction.

Then, one day when she was 16, the bride price, suitcases and a wedding outfit arrived.

“I felt pain inside of me, it really broke my heart,” says Chaibou. “Because I see that I am fighting to fulfil myself, and these people will be an obstacle to my evolution.”

She plucked up the courage to try to get out of the marriage after getting her junior high school diploma. “I told myself that I can try to pull myself together, see how I can escape this situation.”

Her mother understood her objection to the marriage but didn’t have the status, as a woman, to help her.

So Chaibou approached her father, suggesting that as a compromise she could marry but only see her husband in the holidays until she had completed her Baccalaureate.


Chaibou, pictured here with her sister, says that she loves to study

But the tradition of the Tuareg – the ethnic group to which Chaibou belongs – is that the older brother has power over the children of his younger siblings.

Since Chaibou’s uncle – the father of her fiance – was older, her father dared not go against his wishes and preparations for a wedding continued.

In desperation Chaibou asked her school principal, Moumouni Harouna, for help.

He referred her to an NGO called the Centre for Judicial Assistance and Civic Action, which took legal action against her father and uncle for forcing her into a marriage she did not want.

Once in court, Chaibou’s uncle denied the accusation, she says, and claimed it had all been a misunderstanding, so the case was dropped.

But once she got home, her uncle threatened to kill her.

“He said that even if he had to wrap me up – even if he had to wrap me up in a body bag – I would go [to Nigeria],” says Chaibou.

She was forced to take refuge in a women’s shelter.

“The first night spent here I didn’t sleep well,” she says. “I was thinking too much about my parents, about the situation they were in, especially with the anger of my uncle. I was sure he would insult them and threaten them, so I didn’t have a clear mind.”

But faced with the threat of jail, the wedding party returned to Nigeria and after a week Chaibou was able to go home.

“When I put on my school uniform… I felt like my life was renewed. As if it was a new beginning,” she says, describing the day she started college.

Her mother says that she and her husband have now changed their views on forced marriage.

“We are finished with [it] in this family. We are scared of it,” she says. “If a girl grows up she can choose her husband. We can’t do it.”

Mariama Moussa – president of the shelter Chaibou took refuge in – says domestic violence is a serious problem in Niger and that forced marriage is one of the root causes.

“When you force them, as a result there is a succession of violence that they can suffer in their home,” she says. “There is physical violence, psychological violence… When the husband cannot tolerate her any more, he can hit her, or make her leave, even in pregnancy.”


Balkissa Chaibou now feels a sense of responsibility to her family

Chaibou is aware that now she has won her freedom it is important for her to succeed in her studies and repay her family’s sacrifice.

“I know my family’s hope is on my shoulders. Everyone counts on me. Everyone has their eyes on me,” she says.

Now 19, she campaigns for other girls to follow her example and say “no” to forced marriage. She visits schools and has spoken to tribal chiefs about the issue.

She has also spoken at a UN summit on reducing maternal mortality, a phenomenon linked to early marriage.

“Before [the age of] 15 the body is not ready to have a child,” says Clesca.

“About 34% of adolescent deaths in Niger are maternal mortality, which gives you a sense of the problem.

“It is important for the Balkissas of this world to stand up because it shows the other girls that ‘Hey, I can do this.’

“And yes we have seen a ripple effect. One girl says no and others are crowding around her [saying] ‘What did you do? I mean, why did you say no?'”

Balkissa Chaibou is getting closer to becoming a doctor. She passed her International Baccalaureate and is currently at medical school.

“I’m not saying don’t marry,” she tells one group of schoolgirls.

“But choose the right moment to do so. The advice I have for you is to fight – study with all your might. I know studying isn’t easy but you must force yourself because those studies are your only hope.”

Find out more



Forced Marriage isn’t a ‘Religious Tradition’. It’s Plain Abuse – and I Should Know

This article originally appeared in the Daily Telegraph, 8 December 2015.



Jasvinder Sanghera was a victim of honour-based violence.

Today, Her Majesties Inspectorate of Constabularies (HMIC) published, according to chief inspector Sir Tom Winsor, one of the most important reports ever produced.

It’s content? An inspection of the police response to honour-based violence – practices such as forced marriage and female genital mutilation that are designed to oppress women under the guise of cultural or religious beliefs.

In the first review of police responses, HMIC found that just three out of 43 forces in England and Wales are ‘fully prepared’ to tackle such issues and that current abuse guidelines didn’t take into account the particular challenges posed by honour abuse . It also said that police have been putting victims at risk by tipping off potential perpetrators at an early stage of the investigation, and that victims often aren’t believed.

As a campaigner against and survivor of honour abuse for over 35 years – and head of charity Karma Nirvana – today is a great achievement. For too long we’ve been an afterthought – with this form of abuse (which can include sexual and physical violence, FGM, exploitation, imprisonment, forced childbirth, or abortion) not taken as seriously as others.

Yet, while we cheer this overdue recognition, my heart sinks at the stark reality of how much more we have yet to do and how many victims are still not being protected.

Since 2008, Karma Nirvana’s national helpline has received more than 45,000 UK calls for support. That is recognised as a drop in the ocean.

The UK government and police forces acknowledge how deeply this abuse remains hidden and that we are dealing with ‘the tip of the iceberg.’

Thousands of victims remain isolated, trapped among multiple family perpetrators. Because, sadly, it is your nearest and dearest who are, more often than not, the abusers in these cases.

It’s something I know first hand. I’m a survivor – having fled a forced marriage I was promised into at the age of eight. From the ages of 11 to 16, I was worn down and made to believe this was part of our ‘tradition’. When I finally left home aged 16, to make the point that I wouldn’t marry a strange man, my parents reported me missing to the police.

The police called home to inform my family that I was safe and well. My mother answered the phone and was clear that if I did not return home then I was dead in their eyes, that I was akin to a prostitute and had dishonoured the family. My choice was simple: go home and give in, or be disowned.

Imagine being 16 faced with the choice of losing everything you have ever known or having it all back with the condition of marrying a stranger. I chose not to go back and have been disowned ever since. The first few years of my life were a haze. It was only when I finally owned that I was the victim and challenged my energy into breaking my silences and no longer putting my life on hold for them that I was able to emerge as a survivor.

But at the same time I had to watch my sisters being taken out of British classrooms with long absences that today are still rarely questioned, and wedded to men they had only ever seen in photographs.

My dear sister Robina suffered a horrific marriage, but her cries for help would repeatedly fall on deaf ears as members of my family and community encouraged mediation and reconciliation that sent her back into the arms of an abuser.

It was deemed dishonourable and shameful to leave your husband. Victims are encouraged to go back, regardless of how horrific the violence may be. In the end, my sister sadly took her own life – setting herself on fire, in an act deemed ‘more honourable’.

Karma Nirvana was born out of her memory and we continue to break the silences of thousands of voiceless women right here in Britain.

Although we were born in Britain, our family dynamics operate on an honour system and don’t allow us to embrace all that Britain stands for: freedom, independence and democracy. The concept of integration becomes ‘dirty’ and you are prevented from assimilating into wider British society. Karma Nirvana receives hundreds of calls every month from British born women who aren’t allowed basic freedoms as they are deemed ‘dishonourable’ – the freedoms most of us take for granted every single day.

Our lives as women are controlled by family members. The local community become their eyes and ears, ready to report back any shameful behaviour.

The fear and associated risks attached to dishonouring your family become part of your psychology, as you’re conditioned to conform. It becomes part of your life. I understand these ‘rules of engagement’ by the time I was eight-years-old. After years of such conditioning and no counter messages – school being your only place of freedom – you begin to normalise the behaviour.

The life of a regular British adolescent teenager becomes a threat to the family dynamic and you’re chastised constantly. This increases when you become aware of your sexuality.

Many of the victims I meet understand it to be dishonourable to look at a boy – let alone wear make-up, have a boyfriend, have autonomy over marriage, use social networking, have a mobile phone – or just have aspirations, as a woman, beyond the age of 16.

These behaviours can be a trigger for significant harm, as the desire to ‘protect’ against ‘dishonour’ and ‘shame’ is used to justify abuse, violence, forced marriage and even murder.

This has been shockingly demonstrated by a number of cases in England and Wales, such as that of Banaz MahmodShe was 20 years old, in 2005 when she was murdered by her family after being seen kissing her secret boyfriend in public. It was deemed shameful and reported by to her family by a member of the community.

Banaz made several appeals to the police but her pleas that her relatives were capable of killing her were not taken seriously.

Today, with the publication of the HMIC report, we are almost a decade on in our journey.

I am in total agreement with Sir Winsor that this is one of the most important reports ever produced. The big question now is what impact it will have on forces? Will it mobilise police and crime commissioners and chief constables to make improvements by implementing the recommendations?

The need for leadership is crucial if we’re to truly tackle these abuses and challenge perceptions that somehow they are different and part of ‘culture, tradition and religion.’

It’s time for leaders and government departments to raise their heads above the parapet, stand up and make these recommendations come to life. If we’re to ensure the protection of honour abuse victims – that more of them aren’t killed or don’t kill themselves – it’s the only solution.



I’m a Survivor of ‘Honour’ Based Violence

This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post, 24 October 2014.

“We need to ensure girls don’t feel abandoned like I did.”

Laila, not her real name, recounts escaping from her parents, who had arranged for her sister Homa, 16, also not her real name, to marry a much older man against her will:

Looking back, life could have been very different for me and my two younger sisters if our schools had taught us about our right not to face “honour” based violence and forced marriage, had understood what we were going through so that they could have properly supported us, and if they’d informed us about help that was available.

I was born in Iran. I felt lucky, as unlike some parents, my mum and dad’s dreams were no less for us because we are girls. They wanted us to attend university and have careers. My dad was politically active and when I was 11, it had become too dangerous for us to live in Iran, so we fled to Cyprus. Soon afterwards my mother was diagnosed with Leukaemia. We were sent to the UK so that she could receive treatment. When I was 12 she passed away.

Everything changed when, within a year, dad remarried. My stepmother, who had been a child bride at 13, had strict ideas about girls and she brainwashed dad. We were forbidden to hang out with friends, she controlled what we wore and all three of us, even Maryam who was only six, had to cook, clean, and look after her two sons and the baby she’d had with dad. She was training us to be good housewives and we lived under constant threat that if we did not behave as expected, we’d be sent to Iran to be married off by our uncles.

Although I knew that one day a husband would be chosen for me, I was in denial, just hoping it wouldn’t happen. I had other plans, I clung to the dreams my parents once held for me. I wanted to go to university. But studying was a continuous struggle; my stepmother would say ‘you’re a girl, what good will it do?’ Once I faked a school note so I could study at the library.

Homa, my middle sister “rebelled” in tiny, typical teenage ways, by ripping her jeans and listening to music. When Homa was 16, she overheard our stepmother and dad making plans for her to marry a 40-year-old. We’d met him when we’d been taken to visit the family, but we’d had no idea we were being displayed as potential brides.

I wish could have trusted that our school would help protect us, but we’d never been taught about “honour” based violence or forced marriage and when I’d previously disclosed some of the oppression that I’d been experiencing, I had to beg them not to call my dad and step-mother in to talk about it, because we would’ve of been put on the next plane to Iran.

A few days later our stepmother and dad went out with the baby. We seized the chance to call the police. They noted that the house was immaculate and we didn’t have any bruises that day. When we told them about the imminent forced marriage, they said ‘that’s your culture isn’t it?’ That really shocked us. They were supposed to protect us, but they were abandoning us.

Our stepmother and dad were due back any minute. They’d find out straight away that we’d called the police, because our stepbrothers, who were in the playground of their primary school opposite our house (where Maryam our little sister also attended), had seen the police car and so had our neighbours. As no one, not our school, nor the police seemed to understand the danger that we were in, we felt that we were on our own.

I grabbed a small bag, with a picture of my mum and my diary, and we ran over the road to get Maryam from school. One of our stepbrothers, who attended the same school, saw us going to Maryam’s classroom and told us dad was outside. I told him to tell dad we were coming, then we ran out of the back door, through the woods, to the bus stop.

A family friend who’d fallen out with our stepmother allowed us to stay for a few weeks. We informed social services that we had Maryam, and they arranged for us to speak with dad. He told us to return to stop dishonouring the family, but did not fight for custody. After that social services left us on our own.

I took on the role of mum. We found a flat and to pay the bills, Homa and I each got two jobs. Shy Maryam blossomed into a confident girl and Homa took her A-Levels. With everything that had happened, I hadn’t got the grades I’d needed, but I studied hard and secured a place studying Biomedical Sciences at King’s College. Today I work as a trainee surgeon and have a PhD.

In spite of everything, we’ve survived. But I don’t want others to feel abandoned like we did. This is why as, the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation’s (@IKWRO’s) Survivor Ambassador, I am supporting the #RightToKnow campaign.



Airport Officers Fight to Save British Girls from FGM and Forced Marriage

This article originally appeared in The Daily Telegraph, 31 August 2015.

Heathrow Border Force staff simulated how they could identify a trafficking victim

Heathrow Border Force staff simulate how they could identify a trafficking situation Photo: Radhika Sanghan

For some British children, summer holidays can be a time of trauma as they’re forced into marriage or FGM. But this year, British airports are fighting back. Radhika Sanghani reports.

For thousands of girls around the world, it is currently ‘cutting season’ – the time of the year when they are subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM). Sitting here in civilised wealthy Britain – it’s an unthinkable act of barbarity.

And yet it’s also ‘cutting season’ for a shocking number of British girls.

In England and Wales, there are 137,000 women and girls who have been affected by FGM, and it’s estimated that 20,000 are thought to be at risk each year.

Typically, young girls are taken to countries where FGM is carried out in the name of culture, tradition and religion – normally during their summer holidays from school by parents or guardians.

Teachers and authorities often only discover what’s happened when it is too late.

But now the Government is trying to crack down on these families and prevent young girls and women from being subjected to the awful brutality of FGM – where their genitalia is cut or removed.

Instead of relying on schools and health professionals to tackle the problem, the Home Office now has trained officials on the frontline at airports.

Border Force officers at Heathrow and Gatwick airports – England’s largest – this bank holiday weekend are looking out for potential victims of FGM, forced marriage and trafficking – as they have been doing all summer. If anyone looks suspicious, or as though they are in a vulnerable position, they’ll be questioned sensitively.

Nimko Ali from Daughters of Eve (left) with fellow FGM survivor Hibo Wardere (right). Photo: TWITTER

It means that anyone thought to be a victim will immediately receive help, whether that’s medical or legal, and any potential perpetrators can be prevent from flying and arrested.

Already two people have been arrested on suspicion of conspiring to commit FGM.

“I think it’s a great idea,” says Nimko Ali, a prolific FGM campaigner and survivor. She underwent FGM at the age of seven when her family took her back to Somalia on holiday. She explains that they didn’t go with that in mind, but war broke out when they were there, and “it was this random thing that happened in the middle of a war”.

Border Force officers wouldn’t have been able to stop her case of FGM had this policy been around back when she was a child, but she says they could have been incredibly beneficial on her return.

“If I was seven years old coming home and someone had asked if something had happened to me, I would have easily disclosed it,” she says. “When I came home, I really wanted to have a conversation but no one wanted to talk about it.

“For me it was the lack of information that was really the most hurtful.”

One of the only problems she predicts though is that this approach could turn into racial profiling, where staff just question people from Africa, or other Asian countries that are known to carry out FGM.

Shaheen Hashmat, who escaped forced marriage aged 12, agrees this is an issue. “With forced marriage more than half of victims in the UK are Pakistani so there is a disproportionate amount of one ethnicity.

Shaheen Hashmat, 29, escaped her family and the risk of a forced marriage aged 13

Shaheen Hashmat, 29, escaped her family and the risk of a forced marriage aged 13. Photo: KATE PETERS

“That should be a factor but definitely not the only factor. It needs to be part of a bigger picture.”

However, as Ali adds: “There is some truth in stereotypes so you can’t really be upset [if you are questioned and from a certain backgroun].. If 99 per cent of Somalian women have had FGM it’s likely people will ask those people who look typically Somalian. I’m hoping the more we have these conversations in schools and society, girls can come forward and we don’t have to start using terrible indicators like race. Until then that’s all we have to go on.

“If I was at the airport with my young niece and someone said are you planning to take her to have FGM, I’d say no but, thanks for asking. Thanks for not thinking there are cultural barriers and you can’t ask.”

Ashley Robinson, Border Force assistant director at Heathrow, says they are trying to move away from the habits of authorities in the past, where they were so frightened of offending cultures that they wouldn’t question inappropriate behaviour.

“The important thing is to recognise there are cultural barriers and not being afraid to challenge it,” he stresses. “We have to recognise there are different things in the world. We make it clear that in the UK, FGM is child abuse.”

Robinson explains it’s not just about race or ethnicity at all – there are particular signs that they look out for when deciding who to question.

It could be someone having no belongings, being very quiet or not being in control of their passport. Or somebody dressing differently to group, being treated differently or just the scenario of a young girl travelling with parents outside of school holidays.

“Not everyone recognises themselves as a victim,” he sys. “So we’re looking for a sign.”

When I went down to see the scheme in practice, staff simulated an example of what a questioning might look life. A woman of Asian origin was travelling with an Albanian man, who wouldn’t let her speak and answered all the questions directed at her.

In a real situation, she would then be taken for further private talks, and the police would be called if she was genuinely believed to be a victim. Her partner could be interrogated, detained and stopped from leaving the county by Border Force staff.

Robinson says that a number of people have been questioned since the scheme began earlier this summer, and most are aware that FGM is illegal in the UK so try and hide it. Others – who are unaware of the law – try and justify the barbaric practice.

But he stresses that the focus is always on the victim. If there is not enough evidence to detain the perpetrator or to stop them flying, the potential victim can be placed on an ‘at risk’ register.

It means that staff will look at their journey home, and question them when they return back to the UK.

Border Force staff act out a situation where a trafficking victim is identified

Hashmat, whose relatives were forced into marriage, thinks the principle is a good one – but that there needs to be a focus on what the potential victim wants.

“When I escaped my forced marriage, I was asked several times, is this what you want to do? I had to time to think about it. That might be hard in an airport setting, but it’s really important.”

Robinson says that is a priority: “We’re always thinking about the victim first,” he says. And no matter how hard it might be to search for victims amongst millions of passengers, it’s something these officers stress they are committed to doing.

Now all that remains to be seen is just how many people they can prevent from becoming victims, or how many survivors they can offer support to.

As Ali says: “You can’t always prevent FGM [or forced marriage] but you can still help the girls who have had it.


Forced Marriage in the UK? It’s a Bigger Problem Than You Think

This article originally appeared in The New Statesman, 4 August 2015.

To solve the problem, people must first acknowledge it, says Emily Dyer.

Last month, seven British survivors of ‘honour’ abuse and forced marriage spoke out in public about their experiences. They explained how it felt to be abused by those closest to them – their family and community members – in the name of ‘honour’. This marked the UK’s first ever Day of Memory for victims of ‘honour’ killings.

The survivors spoke about how their families’ rules, or ‘honour’ codes, forbade them from doing things that many of us take for granted, from texting a boy to wearing make-up. They talked about how they were made to feel as though this was normal, and that the abuse that resulted from breaking these ‘honour’ codes was their own fault. Some talked about how they felt as though they had nowhere to go as no one outside their community was listening or willing to believe them.

As part of my latest report, Britain’s Forgotten Women: Speaking to Survivors of ‘Honour’-Based Abuse, these women provide a range of personal insights into what is a national problem that affects men, women and children. Earlier this month it was revealed that, from 2010 to 2014, UK police have recorded over 11,000 cases of ‘honour’-based violence including beatings, abductions and even murders in a new study by the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO). This problem stretches across the country, with cases recorded in every single police force in the UK over the five year period.

Yet, given the nature of this vastly underreported crime, the number of cases is still likely to be far higher. Many victims do not go to the police or when they do, forced marriage is not identified or reported. Diana Nammi, Executive Director at IKRWO, said: “unfortunately the figures do not even show the extent of the problem. So many crimes are never reported because the perpetrators are the victim’s own families and/community members”. Last year, Karma Nirvana – a national charity that supports all those affected by ‘honour’ abuse – received over 8,268 calls to their helpline, the majority of which were from victims themselves. This is thought by the group to be “the tip of the iceberg, as this abuse remains largely hidden”.

Despite the abhorrent nature of this abuse, there are still those determined to derail progress being made in fighting against it. They claim that talking about this form of abuse is in some way alienating minorities due to the fact that it predominantly takes place within South Asian communities. ‘Honour’-based abuse is not limited to one religion or culture, but this is surely beside the point. These are British men and women who deserve the same rights and roles in society as everyone else regardless of belief or background. To deny someone the same rights as other British citizens as a result of their culture or religion is as about as intolerant as it gets.

In fact, according to survivors themselves, the misguided fear of offending communities has often stood in the way of protecting and supporting victims. A survivor who has asked to be referred to as  Layla, says that “Despite rumours circulating about my engagement at school, my teachers never intervened-they just saw it as being part of my cultural practice”. According to another survivor, Sara, “the fear of offending communities remains unresolved. What many don’t realise is that religion itself does not condone forced marriage or ‘honour’ abuse.” Jasvinder Sanghera, CEO and founder of Karma Nirvana and a survivor herself, agrees: “cultural acceptance does not mean accepting the unacceptable. It cannot be right that some groups of people are not afforded the same level of protection compared to their white counter parts on the basis of difference.”

Mistakes are currently made when professionals do not have the awareness needed to identify signs of ‘honour’ abuse. This does not mean racial profiling. It means having an understanding of a very real problem and how it works. For example, common child protection procedures would advocate family reconciliation. However, given that perpetrators of ‘honour’ abuse and forced marriage are often family members this would likely to put the victim at far greater risk than before. Consider cases of paedophilia as an example – would any professional in their right mind send the victim back to the paedophile to work out their differences? Without knowing the basics about what ‘honour’ abuse is, professionals are likely to think they are simply following normal procedure and doing the right thing by the victim and their family.

These common mistakes in care are often due to a lack of awareness rather than willingness to help victims. There are police forces and schools who been proactive in seeking out or accepting training from groups like Karma Nirvana. However, there are still those who are dragging their feet. As a result, there is a gap in support for victims and survivors who are time and time again being let down by those whose job it is to protect and support them. It is only when achieving awareness becomes mandatory rather than an optional add-on that this trend can begin to reverse.


‘Honour Killing’ Victims: First National Memorial Day

This article originally appeared on BBC News, 14 July 2015.

By Poonam Taneja, BBC Asian Network


Shafilea Ahmed was killed in 2003. It would have been her birthday on Tuesday.

The first memorial day for victims of so-called honour killings is taking place on Tuesday.

It would have been the 29th birthday of Shafilea Ahmed, who was killed by her parents when she was 17 after suffering years of “honour-based” violence.

UK police forces recorded more than 11,000 cases of “honour” crime between 2010 and 2014.

They are acts committed to defend the supposed honour or reputation of a family and community.

The crimes, usually aimed at women, can include emotional abuse, abduction, beatings and murder.

‘Most honourable human beings’

According to a report by The Henry Jackson Society, 18 cases of honour killings were committed in the UK between 2010 – 2014.

However, campaigners believe the figure may be higher.

The National Day of Memory for Victims of Honour Killings, intended to be an annual event, has come about after a campaign by Karma Nirvana, a charity originally set up in Derby that supports victims of honour crimes and forced marriages, and Cosmopolitan magazine.

Jasvinder Sanghera, CEO of the charity, said: “We are going to be honouring the memories of the most honourable human beings where the perpetrators tried to erase them completely.

“It’s also an opportunity to raise awareness about the issue of honour based abuse and the scale of the problem in Britain.”

Who was Shafilea Ahmed?

Shafilea Ahmed, 17, went missing from her home in Warrington, Cheshire, in 2003. Her body was found on the banks of the River Kent in Cumbria six months later.

Her parents, Iftikhar and Farzana Ahmed denied her murder but were found guilty of the crime by a jury at Chester Crown Court in 2012 and jailed for life.

The court had heard Bradford-born Shafilea was murdered because her parents believed she had brought shame on the family. She had been suffocated with a plastic bag, following years of abuse.

Her parents believed she was too westernised because she wanted to attend parties, go on dates and wear make-up.

Months before she died she had filled out a housing form, saying she wanted to move out and that she feared she would be married off against her will. She had apparently also drunk bleach during a family trip to Pakistan when her mother told her she would not be returning to the UK, the trial was told.

Detectives say Shafilea’s parents wanted to make her conform to their interpretation of Pakistani culture.

Sentencing them, Mr Justice Evans said their desire for her to live in a “sealed cultural environment” was “unrealistic, destructive and cruel”.

‘Harsh lessons learned’

Relatives of victims say there have been failures in investigating “honour-based” crimes.

Jagdeesh Singh’s sister, Surjit Athwal, 27, was murdered in a so-called honour killing in 1998.

Her mother-in-law Bachan Athwal and husband Sukhdave Athwal, of Hayes, west London were jailed at the Old Bailey in 2007 for arranging her murder.

Mr Singh is calling for a public inquiry.

He said: “We need to pull together the harsh lessons learned, from a community level, a policing level and a government level.”

Events being held to mark the day include a London conference where survivors of “honour-based” violence will share their stories.

At the conference, The Henry Jackson Society research fellow Emily Dyer will launch a report on survivors of “honour” abuse.

The report, Britain’s Forgotten Women, concludes that while there has been significant progress in raising awareness of forced marriage and “honour-based” abuse in the UK, there are gaps in support for survivors.

Schools are also taking part in the day, with one secondary school in Manchester that has worked to prevent forced marriages holding a special assembly and releasing balloons.


Businessman is First Person Jailed Under Forced Marriage Laws

This article was originally published in The Guardian.

Merthyr crown court in Wales, where a man was jailed for 16 years for rape and forced marriage. Photograph: Benjamin Wright/PA

Merthyr crown court in Wales, where a man was jailed for 16 years for rape and forced marriage. Photograph: Benjamin Wright/PA

34-year-old from Cardiff subjected victim to years of abuse, systematic rape and blackmail involving hidden camera footage.

A businessman has become the first person in the UK to be jailed under forced marriage laws introduced a year ago.

The man, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, was sentenced to 16 years in prison on Wednesday after making a 25-year-old woman marry him under duress last year.

The man, who was already married, “systematically” raped his victim for months, threatened to go public with hidden camera footage of her in the shower unless she became his wife, and threatened to kill members of her family if she told anyone of the abuse.

The 34-year-old developed an “irrational obsession” with his victim and lured her to his home under the promise of a get-together with friends, Merthyr crown court heard.

When she arrived at his home in Cardiff, the woman found the property empty before the curtains were drawn and the front door locked. The victim, a devout Muslim, was bound and gagged with scarves before music was played loudly to drown out her cries for help.

She was later shown secret footage of her showering and her attacker said he would make the video public unless she married him. The man admitted four counts of rape, forced marriage, bigamy and voyeurism.

Judge Daniel Williams said he used constant threats to keep his victim quiet. “When you first raped her, she was still a virgin – something which you would use to ensure her silence,” he said.

“After you had raped her, you produced a laptop, which had a video of her showering after you had installed a hidden camera in a towel rail. You threatened that if she disclosed the rape to anyone, you would make that video public.

“You made her feel that she was no longer marriage material [for anyone else] in the hope that she would turn to you.”

The court heard that after months of raping the woman, the man turned up at her work and drove her to a mosque to get married. “She was told that if she did not submit to your demands, her parents would be killed,” added Williams.

The court heard that the man had preyed on his victim for years and even managed to convince her that a then boyfriend of hers was gay after he set up a fake Facebook page.

The judge also described the man’s attempts to have his case thrown out by changing his plea several times as an “exercise of control” over the woman, in the hope that she would drop the case.

The trial ended on the second day, after the man pleaded guilty just before the victim was due to give evidence.

Williams told the man he is a high risk to women, adding: “While you have pleaded guilty … there has been no genuine show of remorse. “Over the period of which you raped her … it was your intention to cause her irreparable harm so that no one would want her.”

The man was also given an extended licence for five years on top of his jail sentence. He will remain on the sex offender register for “an indefinite period”.

Williams praised the victim’s bravery in coming forward, saying: “She has continued to show courage and fortitude … and the court wishes her good fortune for the future – which she so richly deserves.”

Forced marriage was criminalised under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, which came into force last June.

Iwan Jenkins, head of Crown Prosecution Wales’ rape and serious sexual offences unit, said: “Forced marriage wrecks lives and destroys families. We hope that today’s sentence sends a strong message that forced marriage will not be tolerated in today’s Britain.

“The victim has shown great courage and bravery in reporting these matters. This conviction illustrates the seriousness with which these crimes are treated and investigated by the Crown Prosecution Service and South Wales police.

“I hope today’s sentence brings some closure for those who have suffered as a result of these particularly nasty and invasive crimes.”

DS Lian Penhale, of South Wales police, described the case as legal milestone. “I hope that today’s sentencing will act as a catalyst to empower victims and those at risk to come forward and enable the police and our partners to give them the support they need to ensure they’re free from this criminal activity – and to bring the offenders to justice,” she said.

“We know that victims and witnesses will be concerned, and therefore we want victims and those at risk to know that allegations will be treated in the strictest confidence and in a safe and sensitive manner. We also understand and recognise that victims [and] those at risk may not want to demonise or otherwise criminalise their families, community or faith group.

“Our priority is to keep victims, and those at risk, safe. South Wales police is committed to protecting and upholding the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all. If anyone is worried about the threat of a forced marriage they should contact the police, the UK forced marriage unit or one of the specialist agencies that support victims and potential victims of forced marriage.”

Press Association.