Forced and Arranged Marriages: Do You Really Understand the Difference?

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
The charity has heavyweight support from the worlds of politics and celebrity putting muscle and drive behind this initiative. Check them out on the website
Although this charity is UK based, forced marriages take place globally. It’s something we should be aware of and help spread the word. We should also say a prayer for people like Aneeta who are prepared to do what it takes to help.

Photos : Stephanie Sinclair/National Geographic

About wordgeyser

Our anglo/american family used to live in four countries (USA, Canada, UK and the Netherlands) on two continents, separated by distance, time zones, circumstance and cultures. It has been a scary, enriching, challenging place to be. The only things guaranteed to get us through were a sense of humour and the amazing people met along the way. . . This year everything changed with a move for us from the Netherlands, – and a move along with us for our son and his wife from the UK – to Houston, Texas, the same city as our daughter. With our youngest in Vancouver, Canada, we are now all living on the same continent. How this happened, and more importantly why, will be the subject of this ongoing blog...
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8 Responses to Forced and Arranged Marriages: Do You Really Understand the Difference?

  1. Vineeta says:

    Thank you for your article.
    If you would like a pdf copy of the book, please drop me an email and i will send send you the book.
    We have just launched a text helpline for those who find it dangerous to talk incase they are overheard. text 4freedom to 88802
    We are about to launch an App this summer that young people can download on their smartphones which gives them sign of forced marriage and places they can go to for help.

  2. anne says:

    What a brilliant article!
    Thank you for sharing and bringing it out to a wider audience.
    Keep up the good work.

  3. sarah koblow says:

    I was a Social Worker in child protection during the late eighties and nineties where multi-culturalism had led to the view amongst many, “well we can’t judge, it is their culture”. This is not tolerance but ignorance, ABUSE is ABUSE regardless of religion, language or ethnic origin. It is always the voices of the most vulnerable, usually women and children(in this case both) who are the last to be heard so keep on shouting about these international abuses of women and children

  4. I always have great admiration for those who make it their mission to help people whose voices would otherwise not be heard. It is heartbreaking that the people these girls should be able to trust most, their parents, are the ones who are putting them into such horriffic circumstances for financial gain. And by writing this blog, wordgeyser, you are passing on the word and that is so important. I will be donating to this charity.

  5. Sheila says:

    Thank you for bringing attention to the Freedom Charity.
    The National Council of Women of Great Britain [NCW] has for some years been concerned by reports of forced marriages, with often unpleasent consequenses, and has contributed to Government consultations on the issue.
    Amazingly I understand forced marriage is not a crime in the UK at the moment.
    However the NCW plan a resolution for their Conference in October calling for the Government to initiate legislation to make forced marriage a criminal offence. It is child abuse and against British Law.

  6. Such a great post Wordgeyser, and sadly one that NEEDED to be written. While I’m generally all for respecting cultural differences,I think the wording used was right on: ‘…not all of their culture’s practices are transferrable. The practices of forced marriages and dishonour-based violence are not acceptable in the UK’. Says it all, doesn’t it? Thanks for writing this piece, it will mean much to many.

    • wordgeyser says:

      This is one of those issues which challenges the rights and customs of certain cultures to practise those customs in countries which regard them as contravening human rights. It’s a battle we, who are lucky enough to be educated and of equal value in our cultures, are morally obliged to fight on behalf of those who are at risk. Aren’t we?

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