My attention was recently drawn to a new charity established in the UK, through a book I was asked to look at and possibly review. I’ve read the book, checked the charity and feel a need to spread the word.
I’ll admit this organisation is not something I’ve been aware of up until now, it’s only been formed this year, and if I’m not aware there are other people who may have missed it too.
Freedom Charity was established by founder and lifetime President Aneeta Prem, one of London’s youngest magistrates who chairs adult, youth and family law. I make no aplogies for taking their aims and mission statement directly from the charity web site,
‘Freedom Charity was established to save the lives of vulnerable children and young people who are at risk of, or are subjected to violent crimes, dishonour-based violence and forced marriages throughout the UK…
… When citizens from other countries settle in the UK, not all of their culture’s practices are transferrable. The practice of forced marriages and dishonour-based violence is not acceptable in the UK and citizen’s rights are protected, especially those of children and young people, and appropriate measures are in place to ensure the safety and protection of our most vulnerable citizens.
It is these children that Freedom Charity will help.’
Until I read up on the charity and the book Aneeta has written to bring attention to the problem, I was oblivious to the concept of forced marriage. If it had crossed my mind at all I believed, as many do, that it is one and the same thing as an arranged marriage.
Not in the same universe.
In arranged marriages the bride will usually have a choice of suitors to select from and either party may reject a potential spouse.
In a forced marriages girls as young as 15, often having been born in the UK and grown up in a westernised environment, return to their parents’ home country for a visit, maybe attending a family celebration, only to discover they are to be married. These marriages are brokered by her parents with family back home without consultation or knowledge on the part of the girl.
While her own family return to the UK she is left behind to marry someone she has not met and will live under the control of his family. She will have no contact with friends, they will not know what has happened to her until she fails return to school after a holiday break. Often these situations are abusive and the girls live in poverty as chattles of the husband’s family. They have no freedom, no education, no rights.
That this should happen in any civilised and humane society is deplorable. It is illegal in the UK but this is not enough to stop the practice.
In her work teaching karate to young children Aneeta became aware of the issue of forced marriages and got involved – seriously involved,
‘She is an active member within her local community and has gained trust and respect for the voluntary work she has done in London, acting as a mentor and a public voice, for which she has received public recognition. She received the Commissioner’s Commendation for the work she did in an oversight capacity leading the Tsunami Police Rescue effort for the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA). Aneeta was the MPA lead member for forced marriages and dishonour based violence, working closely with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and many victims, survivors and community groups to provide independent advice, and she is helping to develop an information website.’
What she also did was write the book, But it’s Not Fair, which the charity hopes to place in every school in the UK, along with programmes to alert teachers and adults working with children to the very real threat of forced marriage in some communities. Although a work of fiction, it has information and advice for girls who fear their friends may be in danger of a forced marriage or abuse.
‘It draws on her extensive experience supporting child victims of forced marriage and dishonour based crimes through her work with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Government Ministers, the police, survivors and her experiences as a magistrate.
The story is written from the view of a young girl, Vinny, whose friend is almost a victim of forced marriage. The book is presented in a fun easy-to-read style, but it carries some powerful messages. “It not only raises awareness but also suggests courses of action that could potentially help potential victims.”‘
The Charity offers a 24/7 telephone help line to anyone who has concerns and questions. Their overall aims are to,
- raise awareness on the issues of violent crimes against children and forced marriages throughout the UK
- engage with young people and empower them, offering advice, information, and guidance
- support victims of violent crimes against children with a range of intervention and support programmes
- identify young people at risk and support them
- work in partnership with specialist agencies and organisations, communities and families
Photos : Stephanie Sinclair/National Geographic