Sputnik spoke with Jasvinder Sanghera, a best-selling author, campaigner, speaker and founder of Karma Nirvana, a leading charity born out of personal experiences of forced marriages and honor abuse.
Sputnik: How did you manage to escape forced marriage?
Jasvinder Sanghera: I was born in England, I went to school in England and I watched my sisters who were all forced into marriages at the age of 15 years old and nobody asked any questions back then. When I was 14, my mother showed me a photograph of a man I was promised to at the age of 8 and I said, no, I'm not marrying a stranger, I was born in England, I want to go to school.
My mother was very clear that I would not put shame on the family and marry this man. So I was taken out of education and then at the age of 16, I managed to escape. So I ran away from home and my family‘s position was I had to go come back and marry this man or I was now dead in their eyes; so I never went back and I became a campaigner because my sister, Robina, tragically committed suicide, she set herself on fire and she died.
Sputnik: How did your parents react to your refusal?
Jasvinder Sanghera: They were very clear that saying no was not an option and I was held a prisoner at home until I agreed to the marriage. I was physically abused, psychologically abused and not allowed to go to school.
Sputnik: What is the scope of this problem in Britain?
Sputnik: The Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, pledged to do more to combat forced marriages; how sufficiently addressed is this issue at present?
Jasvinder Sanghera: We're pleased to hear him say this, other home secretaries have said this in the past, I just hope that it is his intention now to look at the issue seriously. We know that over 40 visas have been granted to people to enter to the UK on the back of a forced marriage. Now, forced marriage is a criminal offense in Britain, so will these 40 people now be investigated for possible criminal offenses?
Because I believe they need to; and also, we have a real issue where our police officers, social workers and teachers are not taking this seriously enough. They need to be trained to recognize that this is not a cultural issue, this is an issue of abuse and this is what needs to change. I'm pleased the home secretary has said this, but I hope that we see changes now.
Sputnik: What are the roots of this problem?
Jasvinder Sanghera: What we have to recognize is that these are families that have a belief and value system that there is tradition, which is an arranged marriage; we do not have any issue where people are consenting to marriages and there's an arrangement to the marriage, but what can happen is in these families — what they do is is when a young person says no, I don't want to marry, they force them, and they force them because they're trying to contain the practice of an arranged marriage.
Sputnik: What is your advice to young women and girls who find themselves in this situation?
Jasvinder Sanghera: When it happened to me 38 years ago there was no support available, today it's very different. The important thing to do is to talk to somebody that you trust. You can report it to the police and if you do, talk to the police and explain to the police not to talk to your family, because they may not understand that the family are the perpetrators.
Importantly, you can call a helpline, at Karma Nirvana we have a website, we have a helpline; if you call us, we never ever talk to your family. The important thing is that you speak to somebody that you trust and do not leave the country. If you are worried that you may be going on a holiday with your family but you could be forced into marriage, the important thing is to not go and then talk to somebody about that, because we can help you in this country, we can help you if you're out of this country too, but you need to know the numbers for the numbers for the Forced Marriage Unit and also the helpline numbers.
Sputnik: Some cases are said to go unchallenged by authorities. What is the reason for their inaction?
Jasvinder Sanghera: Many cases go unchallenged by the authorities and the sad thing is it's because they are not looking at the victim as being abused by somebody from their family members. So when we think about children under the age of 16, who are being forced to marry [with the] family organizing their marriages, what the authorities are doing is they are talking to their parents and they're taking their parents word for it.
We need to challenge these people and also cases have been put forward where people have been charged, but they have not progressed into a criminal prosecution. We have to challenge the police, we have to challenge the Crown Prosecution Service and ask the question: "why, for all the thousands of cases that are seen every year, have there have only been two criminal convictions in England?"; that cannot be right, the law has been there since 2014.
Sputnik: According to your website, your charity organization helps both men and women affected by honor-based abuse and forced marriages. I was really surprised because I didn't know men faced this problem too. Can you elaborate more on that?
Jasvinder Sanghera: Yes, we support men and women, and we have since 2008, because the male experience and people overlook it, because men often have more freedom and independence than females, and that is still the case; however, what we have to remember is that very often, when it comes to marriage, they are still victims of forced marriage, because their family will say to them: "you have to now marry who we say, you have to uphold the honor of the family and pass on these traditions, and, as a man, the responsibilities is on your shoulders"; and they are forced into marriages.
We get over 800 calls every month on our helpline and around 25% of our callers are men calling the helpline. Also, we have to remember that when you see the practice of first cousin marriage, which clearly is a tradition in Muslim communities — it is not against the law in Britain to marry your first cousin — many of these young men will be promised to somebody from birth.
The views and opinions expressed by the speaker do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.