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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Active Against Forced Marriage

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

At the opening of a conference on ‘Forced Marriages’ organised jointly by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and the Home Office, Meg made the following remarks.


Welcome to Lancaster House, and to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.  My name is Meg Munn and I am the Foreign Office minister with responsibility for consular affairs.


I know that many of you have travelled long distances to be here today.   It is a great pleasure to welcome colleagues from across Europe as well as many of you who have joined us from Embassies across London.   We also welcome all those who have travelled from across the UK: from Glasgow, Cardiff, Derby, Bradford and Manchester.


We are meeting here today under the auspices of the European Commission’s Daphne Fund, and so I would also like to extend a particular welcome to our partners from Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria, Turkey and the Netherlands.


This conference is the UK’s contribution to the European Commission’s "Active Against Forced Marriage" conference series.  The series opened in Hamburg earlier this year, and I wish partners every success in subsequent conferences.  


We hope that our contribution will help raise awareness across Europe of this appalling human rights abuse.  More importantly, we hope it will offer a series of suggestions for how your governments can begin to combat forced marriages in your own countries. 


Let me tell you a story.  Earlier this year, the Forced Marriage Unit received a call from West Yorkshire Police. They had been contacted by Chris, who was worried about his 23 year old girlfriend, Nazia.


Fearing the shame of their daughter’s relationship with Chris, a white friend of Nazia’s from university, Nazia’s parents tricked her into travelling to Pakistan to marry a man she had never met. When she arrived, Nazia was repeatedly raped by her husband-to-be. Nazia had also recently been diagnosed as having schizophrenia and with no access to medicine, her condition deteriorated.


The Forced Marriage Unit worked with the British High Commission in Islamabad to locate Nazia and rescue her. After medical and psychiatric treatment at a women’s refuge in Islamabad, Nazia flew back to the UK. 


Nazia was met off the plane by a team of social workers, based at Heathrow Airport.  She was interviewed, and transport was arranged for her to travel to a local women’s refuge.   The Forced Marriage Unit then ensured that Nazia was referred to a mental health specialist and worked with the housing department in her local area to find long-term accommodation. 


Nazia now has a full-time job and has married Chris.  She has had no contact with her family since she left and believes that her parents have told her little brother that she is dead.


As you can see, victims of forced marriage require the assistance and support of many organisations.  This is why we work so closely with the Home Office and with other Government departments, such as the Department of Health, the Department of Children, Schools and Families and the Department of Communities and Local Government.   That is why we work with the police, with social services, with teachers.  That is why we rely so heavily on our partners in the voluntary sector: the women’s aid workers, the refuges, the advocacy groups.  It is vital that we channel our combined resources into preventing forced marriages, both here in the UK and overseas. 


Since 1999, the Government has been providing consular assistance to British and dual nationals forced into marriage overseas.  Our staff go to great lengths to protect young British men and women who find themselves overseas and threatened and abused by their own families.


The Forced Marriage Unit, a team of six dedicated people who put their heart and soul into helping young people, work hand-in-hand with staff in our High Commissions and Embassies across the world.  All of us are fully committed to providing the highest quality consular assistance possible.


The UK is a world leader in this area, providing end-to-end support for British victims and potential victims of forced marriage, both in the UK and overseas. No other country tackles forced marriage as systematically as we do and no other country has a unit quite like the Forced Marriage Unit, solely dedicated to combating this human rights abuse.


We are proud of what we have achieved in the UK, but there is much more to do.  I look forward to forging stronger and stronger links with yourselves and with your governments, so that together we can help eradicate this appalling human rights abuse.


For further information visit: http://www.fco.gov.uk/servlet/Front?pagename=OpenMarket/Xcelerate/ShowPage&c=Page&cid=1094234857863 

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