Record numbers contact helpline for forced marriage and honour-based abuse

Charity warns calls are going unanswered as demand for advice overwhelms the service

The UK's only forced marriage and honour-based abuse helpline has received almost double the number of monthly calls it had last year. Capacity is now so stretched that its founder has warned that it may have to cut the line to only four days a week.

The project, funded by the Ministry of Justice, is experiencing more calls than ever before and missed almost 140 calls in one month both from people potentially at risk of being coerced into marriage or of abuse at the hands of their family or community, and from professionals trying to help victims.

Almost 1,070 calls came into the helpline, run by the Karma Nirvana charity, this January, compared with just over 660 in the same month last year. The charity claims it is missing double the number of calls it did 12 months ago.

The majority of the known callers were women who were concerned about being the victims of honour-based abuse – physical or mental abuse which may have been committed to protect or defend the honour of the family or community – and forced marriage. Some callers were under 15 years old and the majority of known callers were from London. Many called back repeatedly for help.

Jasvinder Sanghera, founder of Karma Nirvana, said the people who call the helpline represent just a "drop in the ocean" of all those who need help. The phone line once received a call from a five-year-old child who had been promised to someone as their wife, she said. "This is a hidden crime and our victims have multiple perpetrators," she said. "They can be extremely isolated, with their nearest and dearest trying to keep them away from agencies. Reporting is quite rare and very courageous. We know we have funding until March next year, but we can't operate at full capacity. We'll have to consider cutting the service to four days a week, because we can't cope with the level of demand."

This year it will become a criminal offence to force anyone into marriage in England and Wales. MSPs in Scotland recently voted for the Westminster legislation to be applied north of the border. According to Ms Sanghera, calls to the helpline shot up once proposals in the Anti-Social Crime and Policing Bill were announced. About 41 per cent of their callers in January were from professionals, such as police officers, teachers and social workers, trying to help victims. It costs close to £160,000 to run the helpline annually.

In January alone, the helpline helped a 17-year-old girl who was being physically and emotionally abused by members of her immediate family and was scared she would be forced into marriage when she finished school. Although she had disclosed the information to a teacher, her parents got involved and the case was closed. After a charity worker spoke to social services on her behalf, she moved away from her family and into safe accommodation.

The charity also received a call from a police officer who was helping a same-sex male couple in their early twenties, who were at risk of honour abuse and being coerced into marriages. The couple had run away and were housed in another area through a local authority.

Shahina Swain knows first hand how important it is to have someone to reach out to when undergoing honour-based abuse. More than a decade ago, when she was 17, her parents took her and her siblings to Bangladesh to meet their extended family. Once there, Ms Swain was told she would be married to her 16-year-old first cousin – whom she had never met – within a matter of days. She escaped only when a relative from Britain, who heard about the plan, flew out and took her home. She has since been disowned by her family and lives with her husband in London. "There was sheer panic, shock and disbelief [when I was told about the marriage]. I said, no, I didn't want to go through with it. But it is a case of: tough, this is what you have to do. Once home, the trust for me had completely gone. The people I loved, who I felt were going to protect me, had done the ultimate thing by betraying my right to choose.

"The trauma itself is something you can never get past. I can't celebrate family time, my birthday or their birthdays. You need to give these victims a voice. For me, this would have been an immense support."

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said the department has "listened to the issues raised by Karma Nirvana and are considering them carefully". He added: "We are making more money available than ever before to help victims cope and recover from the effects of crime, making sure that offenders – rather than taxpayers – foot the bill."

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little