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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Tackling Forced Marriages

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

At an event held in York to highlight changes to the law brought about by the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 Meg gave the following speech. For further details visit: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/fco-in-action/nationals/forced-marriage-unit/

 

It’s great to see such an excellent turn out today. It demonstrates the commitment to take action to deal with so-called honour based violence.

 

It’s also good to be back in York where I worked in children’s social services before I was elected to parliament.

 

Since 1997 this Government has been working to meet the challenge that domestic violence poses. As part of this strategy we have acted against forced marriage and so-called honour based violence.  As with other forms of domestic violence, forced marriage and honour based violence cross all social barriers.

 

We are committed to tackling these practices, ensuring justice for victims and providing support and advice to both potential victims and survivors. Our strategy has been put together with input of practitioners, whether from the statutory or voluntary sector, communities and crucially, victims themselves.

 

In my previous role I worked with victims of domestic violence and saw for myself the horror and pain that attacks from people previously trusted can bring. I’m not just talking about physical pain, thought that is bad enough, I mean the pain of realising that someone who should be close, supportive, a relative or friend, is in fact a violent bully.

 

A short example of the type of situation that happens. 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.

 

Working to offer support

Victims of forced marriage require the help and support of many organisations. In the Foreign and Commonwealth Office we work 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. 

 

We work with the police, social services, and teachers. We rely heavily on our partners in the voluntary sector: the women’s aid workers, the refuges, the advocacy groups.  By working together our combined resources can prevent forced marriages, here in the UK and overseas. 

 

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

 

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

 

The UK is a 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 know there is more to do. A National Steering Group on forced marriage and honour-based violence has been set up with the Home Office, Department for Children, Schools and Families, Department of Health, Forced Marriage Unit, CPS, Ministry of Justice and ACPO.

 

Changes to the law

Today’s seminar is part of a series organised by the group in the run up to the implementation of the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 which will be introduced in the autumn. This Act is designed to provide measures to the courts to stop forced marriage from occurring.

 

Importantly the implementation of the Act will make the Forced Marriage Unit’s Guidelines statutory. This is a huge step forward as it will mean that police, teachers, health professionals and social workers will have a statutory obligation to have regard to the guidelines, ensuring the best possible response to victims.

 

The draft guidelines are currently being finalised and will be launched for public consultation in the coming weeks. I strongly encourage you to respond, we have to ensure that the guidelines will be fully effective and make a difference to both agencies and victims.

 

We know we need to do more to help victims come forward. They often feel frightened of accessing help, frightened that people will not understand them or blame them for what is happening.

 

The Honour Network

One of the initiatives we have set up is the Honour Network. The Network which is coordinated by Karma Nirvana, who are here today, provides a helpline for victims and survivors of forced marriage. The helpline is staffed by volunteers, all of whom have experienced honour based violence. Having survivors answering calls can give victims the reassurance that they will be understood. No judgements will be made, and a source of confidential support and information is available.

 

We have made substantial progress tackling forced marriage in the UK. This is one of 7 seminars raising awareness of honour based violence and forced marriage. We know that tackling these practices will take us all working co-operatively together.

 

Please use today as an opportunity to talk about your experiences in tackling these crimes and the challenges you have faced. By discussing experiences we can learn from each other and understand better how to make sure that such terrible practices are consigned to history. 

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