Resisting forced marriage in the UK

The World

JS’s 15-year-old sister wound up as the wife to the man her parents had originally selected for her. LM �how did you find out about this man, how old were you at the time?� JS �I was 14 years old at the time my mother said to me with a photograph of the man, she said that was going to be my husband. And at that age, I didn’t contemplate anything. However I had the experience of watching my sisters being taken out of school when they were 15 and to marry men they had only met in photographs. And when I was 15 years old I asked, who’s getting married, mom? My mother said, you are. And I clearly protested and I said, I don’t want to get married, mom, I want to finish school, maybe go to college and university. I soon realized no was not an option and I was taken out of school, made prisoner in my own home, locked in my room until I agreed to the marriage.� LM �What were they worried about, that you’d somehow leave the house and not come back?� JS �absolutely. I was promised to this man from the age of 8, that’s what was realized later on, and this problem had to be realized by my parents. So they were very concerned that if I didn’t go through with the marriage it’d bring dishonor and shame on the family. Later on I decided to say yes only because I knew it would buy back my freedom while I planned my escape, and escape I did. I escaped when I was 16 and I ran away from home 27 years ago to make the point that I’m not marrying this man. And when I rang my mom to say I want to come home now, she said you’re either marrying this man who we have chosen for you or you’re dead in our eyes.� LM �and you never did marry him, is that correct?� JS �no, I never married him, however my younger sister had to marry him.� LM �how old was she when she got married?� JS �she was 15 and a half.� LM �and he was?� JS �he was at least seven years older.� LM �Was this man in Britain at the time?� JS �no he was in India, so he was identified there, where my father originated from. And he would’ve come over to the UK as somebody who was sponsored by me, being the British subject and then he would’ve become the British subject over time.� LM �so has that happened with your sister then who did marry him? JS �She did marry him and that did happen. And inevitably they’ve divorced and he’s gone off and married someone else.� LM �is the divorce in these cases generally initiated by the man, could your sister have done it?� JS �the whole thing about my experience is that I was brought up to believe there are certain things an Asian woman mustn’t do in order protect the family name and the honor of the family and dishonoring the family meant going against the beliefs and the value system. And one of those things was to say no to a forced marriage, and clearly divorce had a status of shame to. And in the case of my older sister who’s a year and a half older than me, she was in the end in such a dire situation, suffering domestic violence, she went home, to go back to the husband and make the marriage work for the sake of our honor. And in the end, my sister committed suicide, she set herself on fire and suffered burns on 80% of her body and died. The thing about our experiences, that our family are the perpetrators and when we turn to them they send us back to abusive situations because they don’t want us to shame them in any way yet it is them that should be shamed.� LM �you are now an activist on this issue, that’s one of the reasons you’re going to speak before British Parliament. You founded the Karma Nirvana Project which as you say supports Asian women and men fleeing forced marriage. Now it is not a crime to force a child into marriage, but how often is there a tie, as you just alluded to with your sister, between forced marriage and domestic violence?� JS �forced marriage is a form of domestic violence because if you consider the kind of victims we see and what is happening to them, physically abused, psychologically, many are kidnapped, harassed, black mailed and even raped and beaten, we don’t have a specific criminal offense against forced marriage, although there is criminal activity engaged in these cases. So yes it is a form of domestic violence and part of my campaign is that we would like specific criminal legislation designed to deal with this case because not many people are dealing with it as criminal activity.� LM �And what are the numbers here in terms of forced marriage? Are you talking about hundreds or thousands of cases in say especially the UK and the US?� JS �in the UK we only have the figures that are monitored by our government here. We have a Forced Marriage Unit that deals with these cases. They tell us that 5,000 people a year make contact with their unit for help and advice. The repatriate 300 British subjects every year back into the UK who’ve been taken abroad and forced into marriage. A third of those cases are minors, they’re as young as 9, 10, 11, 12. now the thing about the figures, I believe, as many others do, it is far greater than that and actually this is the tip of the iceberg. If you look at Karma Nirvana for example, we deal with 15 new cases a week and we deal with over 200 support calls a month.� LM �so you also get calls not just from women but from men who’ve been forced into marriage. Give me an example.� JS �We have a male project worker, he was 10 years old when he was taken abroad and forced to marry a five year old girl. He was brought back to England and then taken abroad when he was 16 and then he was forced to marry and consummate the marriage. And he now is pioneering work around men. He sees young men who are being forced to marry because of their sexuality, we see gay men, the family want to hide the fact that they are gay and force them into a marriage because it’s hugely shameful to the family for communities to find out he’s gay. We see young men who fall in love that the family don’t approve of, we see men who got married at very young ages thinking it was a party when actually it was their wedding.� LM �is the problem of forced marriage domestic violence as a result of this including honor killings, is it worse in an immigrant community such as Darby, England or someplace here in the United States than it is in India or Pakistan or wherever?� JS �there is an assumption made because we are British born subjects, with that comes this inherent amount of freedom and independence. That is a myth because our families and communities feel challenged by that myth so they hold onto the oppressive practices even more. And the same thing will happen in America. I’ve been to India and almost everywhere in India you can see it in your face, the way people are treated. In places like the UK it’s more of a hidden issue and it’s happening behind closed doors and that’s part of the problem because people think, if you view me as an independent Asian woman, everything’s fine at home, that is not the case.�

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