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Feature: Forced marriages in East London

New legislation to protect people from forced marriages comes into place in June New legislation to protect people from forced marriages comes into place in June

Monday, May 26, 2014
4:03 PM

With perpetrators of forced marriages facing jail terms when the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 comes into effect next month, reporter Janine Rasiah speaks to a victim who has turned her life around and a Newham-based charity which supports those looking for help.

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A forced marriage is where one or both people do not (or in cases of people with learning disabilities, cannot) consent to the marriage and pressure or abuse is used.

The pressure put on people to marry against their will can be physical (including threats, actual physical violence and sexual violence) or emotional and psychological (for example, when someone is made to feel like they’re bringing shame on their family).

Financial abuse (taking your wages or not giving you any money) can also be a factor.Source: gov.uk

Almost half of the women supported at Beverley Lewis House last year had either been threatened with forced marriage or had experience it.

The safe house which protects women at an secret East London location also helped one woman who had experienced more than one forced marriage.

But Suzanne Bailey, service manager for East Thames Group, which runs the house, hopes giving victims of forced marriage the option of prosecuting the perpetrators will help more people come to terms with their past.

“There is an argument put forward about whether it [the new law] is going to have this underground effect on reporting because there is usually a family connection and victims might not feel comfortable with that,” she said.

Jasvinda Sanghera hasn’t spoken to her family in 35 years after they disowned her for failing to go through with a forced marriage.

She remembers watching her sisters being taken out of school to marry men they had only seen in photographs.

“They came back as somebody’s wife with a ring on their finger and nobody acted,” she recalls.

“I was only 14 years old when I came home from school one day and was presented with a photograph of a man who I was to learn I had been promised to from the age of eight.”

She was taken out of education at the age of 15 and a half and held a prisoner in her bedroom with a padlock on the outside to prevent her from escaping.

Jasvinda agreed to the marriage in order to facilitate her to escape and ran away aged 16.

She was reported missing to the police and was told by the officer who found her that she could either go home to her family or call them and let them know that she was safe.

The call was answered by her mother and is a conversation that she will never forget.

She was told she could either come home and marry the man that had been chosen for her or “you are dead in our eyes”.

They have had no contact since then.

“If I was 16 today I would do the same thing,” Jasvinda admitted. “My sister suffered a horrific marriage and set herself on fire when she was 23.”

She founded Karma Nirvana in 1993 to help victims and says she is “completely for” the criminalisation of forced marriage and hopes it will stop victims feeling like they are in the wrong.

“We are made to feel that it is we who have dishonoured our families and that you are a bad person for taking a stand against the people who are meant to be supporting you the most,” she said.

“But the really important thing is that victims will have that choice.”

A recent case she dealt with involved a woman who was married and had children despite not really having the capacity to consent to the marriage and the relationship.

East Thames helped her to continue her relationship with her children through social services and enabled her to understand what a healthy relationship is and to understand she does have a choice.

Having worked at East Thames for two decades, Suzanne has seen an increase in victims seeking help, although she believes that this is due to support networks being in place which encourage people to report.

“These are the ones that are reported to us and, because of the nature of the issue, it is very likely that there are more incidents occuring which we are not aware of,” she added.

How is the law changing?

Once the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 comes into force on June 16, victims will have the option to prosecute.

A person found guilty of an offence could be jailed for up to seven years for using violence, threats or coercion for the purpose of causing another person to enter into a marriage.

If the victim is found to lack capacity to consent to marriage the perpetrator could also be found guilty of the offence.

Victims could decide not to prosecute and instead obtain a Forced Marriage Protection Order, which were introduced in 2008.

This is an order in a civil court but its breach is punishable with a two-year jail sentence for contempt of court.

FMPOs can prevent a forced marriage from occuring or offer protective measures when a forced marriage has already taken place.

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