Growing reports of forced marriage are ‘just the tip of the iceberg’

Social issues
Social issues

A police campaign to raise awareness about forced marriage has revealed reports of the crime are on the up in Hertfordshire.

Forced marriage was criminalised last week and the news has prompted Herts Police to launch a crackdown on the practice, as well as honour-based violence and female genital mutilation (FGM).

More than 150 people attended a conference at the force’s headquarters in Welwyn Garden City yesterday, which included acounts from survivors of the cruel family practice.

Head of the county’s community safety unit Det Supt Mick Hanlon said: “In terms of figures I am pleased to say the number of reports of forced marriage and honour-based violence are going up year on year.

“Last year the Herts force investigated 13 reports of forced marriage and 11 of honour-based violence.

“Whilst I am pleased we are getting more reports, I am very acutely aware that this is still just the tip of the iceberg.”

This week’s awareness drive is intended to help people spot signs that someone they know may be being forced into marriage – especially at a young age – and encourage witnesses to come forward.

Det Supt Hanlon continued: “It is similar to the other issue of domestic abuse in that it is a hidden crime.

“This week of action is about raising awareness of the crime and encouraging witnesses to come forward so that they have trust and confidence in doing so. It is also about working in partnership with other agencies so we can recognise the signs.

“This crime is not just growing in Herts, it is a national issue and it is down to our public services to recognise indicators that could potentially be a sign of forced marriage.”

According to charity Karma Nirvana, signs that someone may be falling victim to a forced marriage include them withdrawing from school or education, and not being allowed to engage in different groups.

There could also be control mechanisms in place, including not being able to have a mobile phone.

The charity’s Jasvinder Sanghera explained the summer holidays are the most critical time for reports of forced marriages, as some teens are taken abroad by their family for this purpose – a practice which is now against the law.

Ms Sanghera, who founded the charity, said: “The time to spot the signs is now – some people may be dreading the summer holidays.

“You can help by looking out for people who don’t have any aspirations, or whose lives seem very different to what other teenagers might ordinarily be doing.”

One survivor of the practice is Shahina, who told the Gazette: “When it happened to me I felt very isolated and panicked about the future and what it would hold for me.

“I felt betrayed by my family – that support network I had lost, and I had nobody to turn to.

“For many years I went through a grieving process as I was disowned from my family. That is a pretty difficult thing for a young person to deal with.”

To report a crime or incident, call the police non-emergency number 101, but always dial 999 if in immediate danger.

For more information, help or advice about forced marriage and honour-based violence, contact Karma Nirvana on 0800 5999 247 or click here to visit the charity’s website.