Cash crisis threat to victims of honour violence

Government pulls funding for groups that tackle forced marriage and murder
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The Independent Online

Funding for the front line organisations which locate and save the victims of forced marriages and honour killings has been slashed by the Government, The Independent has learnt.

Two of the country's most prominent non-profit organisations involved in tackling so-called honour violence are now reliant solely on public donations, including a charity that runs the only national telephone line for victims of forced marriages. The funding shortage is so bad that both charities say they will have to pare down or close key services unless more money can be found, which could put hundreds of vulnerable people at risk.

The Honour Network, Britain's only national help line for victims of forced marriages and honour attacks, has not received any Government cash since April, when a £43,000 grant from the Forced Marriage Unit ran out.

The Iranian and Kurdish Women's Rights Organisation (IKWRO), a London based charity that specifically helps Kurdish and Arab victims, has just been told its funding would not be renewed next year. A £29,000 grant they won last year paid for a full-time Kurdish outreach worker who helped victims relocate to safe houses. The worker will now have to be laid off.

Yesterday Jasvinder Sanghera, a forced marriage survivor who went on to found Karma Nirvana, the Derby-based charity that runs the Honour Network, said she may be forced to close the help line. "We're literally at the stage where we're running on £50 from a donor here, £1,000 from another donor there," she said. "We're being fatally undermined.

"Our volunteers currently take calls at all hours, including evenings and the weekends. That will be the first service to go – perhaps as soon as January. If we don't secure more consistent funding, we may even have to close within six months."

Last year the Home Affairs Select Committee admitted that the known numbers of forced marriages in the UK represented "just the tip of the iceberg" and called on the Government to provide "sufficient" funding for charities that provide emergency help lines and accommodation for victims. Despite this, the amount of cash available from the Forced Marriage Unit for charities specialising in forced marriage and honour violence prevention over the past year was just £65,000. Next year the Forced Marriage Unit's Domestic Programme Fund will be increased to £84,000 but because the grants are only available for new projects, Karma Nirvana and IKWRO have been rejected.

Both organisations work closely with the Government's Forced Marriage Unit and play key roles in locating and protecting hundreds of men and women who need to escape from violent families.

The Honour Network was set up in April 2008 with the help of a £15,000 grant from the Forced Marriage Unit and receives more than 300 calls per month from people who fear they will be forced into a marriage by their families or say they are at risk of being killed because their behaviour has brought shame on their community.

Karma Nirvana were given a further £28,000 to run the line for 12 months, a move which campaigners at the time greeted as a sign that the Government was finally starting to crack down on forced marriages after what they believed was years of kowtowing to cultural sensitivities.

But in April the grant was not renewed. Since then the telephone network staffed by former victims of forced marriages who work on an unpaid voluntary basis, has had to rely solely on public donations. Campaigners fear that the initial enthusiasm from ministers to confront forced marriages and honour violence is dying.

Diana Nammi, the founder of IKWRO, said yesterday: "The Forced Marriage Unit has been excellent but it needs grass roots organisations like us because we are closer to the front line and come face to face with the victims. Forced marriages and honour killings have not stopped. They are still happening all the time. And yet the funding has dried up."

Unlike Karma Nirvana, whose staff largely come from Punjabi, Urdu and Bengali-speaking communities, IKWRO is one of the few charities in Britain that has staff working in Kurdish, Arab and Iranian communities. Staffed by three full-time workers, last year they came across 420 cases, 85 of which were deemed high risk where a forced marriage or potential honour killing was imminent. Mrs Nammi says 56 per cent of her victims are Kurdish-speaking and they will be without an outreach worker when the £29,000 grant runs out.

A spokeswoman for the Forced Marriage Unit, run jointly by the Foreign Office and the Home Office, said: "The Government takes Forced Marriage and Honour Based Violence extremely seriously and we remain committed to working with partners across the voluntary sector to support victims." She admitted that IKWRO had been unsuccessful in finding extra funding but added that Karma Nirvana were welcome to contact them, something Mrs Sanghera says she has tried to do consistently for six months.

To contact the main charities involved call Honour Network on 0800 5999 247 and IKWRO on 0207 920 6460

Hell for honour: The facts

* Police estimate at least 12 women every year are murdered by family or members of their immediate community in so-called honour killings.

* The Government's Forced Marriage Unit, which specialises in repatriating British women who have been forced into unwanted marriages overseas, comes across 1,600 cases every year, resulting in 300 successful repatriations.

* Since the Forced Marriage Act became law last year, those at risk of being forced into unwanted marriages have been allowed to obtain injunctions against their perpetrators. The Government thought 50 people would apply for an injunction in the first year. Within the first nine months 72 people had obtained one.

Case study: 'I worry about the young girls who ring' Shazia Qayum, 29, survivor and volunteer

When I was 15 years old I was suddenly taken out of school one day and told I had to marry my cousin. My mother was holding a photograph and she said the marriage had already been arranged. She told me that there was nothing I could do about it. They took me out of school and I later found out that a doctor had been writing them sick notes to explain my absence.

I first met my husband on my wedding day when I was 17. I'd been taken to Pakistan against my will and told I had no choice. My husband spoke barely any English and I kept trying to tell him that I didn't want to marry him but he didn't care. He just said he wanted to get married to me so he could get a visa to the UK. When we got back my parents then made me sponsor his visa application. Eventually I ran away and spent four years living in B&B and refuges before I came across Karma Nirvana. Now I work there full time helping others over come the same problems.

I get calls put through to my mobile between 9am and 9.30pm. At the moment I seem to be getting a lot of young teenage girls. Most are phoning up saying they are being pressured into sponsoring husbands or future husbands to get visas for Britain. Others are actually in danger. Nine out of 10 times they want to talk to someone with first-hand experience of these sorts of things which is why it's so important to have survivors managing the phones. We're able to give practical and emotional support which resonates with them because we can draw on our own experiences. For example, a lot of the time people are scared of going into a refuge, they think it will be like a prison. As someone who spent four years in a refuge I'm able to tell them it is nothing like that.

I am worried about the number of young girls calling. One that stood out was a 14-year-old girl, pregnant to a boy at school. She wanted to get an abortion but she knew Islam forbade her doing that and was terrified about what her parents would do if they found out.

Her teacher phoned up and was asking for advice about how to break the news to the family. We were able to tell her not to go anywhere near the family. Doing that could potentially put the girl in great danger.

From time to time you get white Brits calling up, particularly those in mixed race relationships or marriages. I had a mother phone up who was worried about what had happened to her white son's girlfriend who had been taken to Pakistan once her parents found out she had been dating a white guy. The girl had escaped her family and was staying in a hotel. We were able to put her in contact with a refuge in Pakistan and contact the Forced Marriage Unit who can help repatriate her.

It's incredibly rewarding to be able to give something back after what I have learned in the past 10 years.