London: A British national helpline for forced marriage and “honour” crime victims was launched Friday, backed by the government which is worried about the scale of the South Asia-linked problem.
The Honour Network, run by the Karma Nirvana charity, is staffed by people with experience in such crimes, as well as with intimidation and abuse. The helpline offers emotional and practical support.
The government, through its Forced Marriage Unit (FMU), contributed 15,000 pounds ($29,650) to the start-up costs.
Forced marriages -- as distinct from mutually-accepted arranged marriages -- have led to suicides and murders, often called “honour killings,” of South Asians in Britain, shocking a nation widely deemed to have successfully absorbed immigrant communities and customs.
In the last census, conducted in 2001, 2.3 million people out of 58.8 million classed themselves as Asian or Asian British.
Established in 2005, the FMU receives around 5,000 calls and deals with about 300 cases each year -- figures that officials fear are merely the tip of the iceberg.
The helpline “is a big step in the fight to raise awareness of the issues of forced marriage and honour-based violence and is crucial in giving victims across the country the confidence to come forward,” said Home Office minister Vernon Coaker.
“We recognize that the scale of these issues remains unknown and much of the problem stays underground.”
The FMU says 65% of known cases involve Pakistan, 25% Bangladesh, a small percentage India, with the rest spread across the globe.
The forced marriage cases typically involve British-born women aged 15-24, made under extreme physical and emotional duress to marry relatives from the mother country, with the threat of being thrown out of the family -- or worse -- if they do not cooperate.
Karma Nirvana founder Jasvinder Sanghera said The Honour Network was “designed for victims, survivors or potential victims of honour-based crimes to reassure them they are victims not perpetrators.”
Karma Nirvana, based in Derby, central England, is a South Asian men and women’s centre which receives more than 200 calls a month for support.