Aneeta Prem: Forced marriage is a hidden crime

Aneeta Prem wants every teenager in the United Kingdom to have a copy of “But It’s Not Fair”.

An author and founder of Freedom Charity, Prem visits schools across the country distributing her book and giving lectures often dominated by the issue of forced marriage.

“It’s a hidden crime that no one is talking about,” Prem says during her lecture at the University of Westminster. “It’s like domestic violence in the UK 30 years ago.”

But while domestic violence is a criminal offence now, forced marriage has not yet been categorised as a crime. While Scotland has already criminalised forced marriage, Britain’s current legislation only mentions of the protection against forced marriage under its  Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007.

In his October 2011 speech on immigration, Prime Minister David Cameron mentioned plans to tackle forced marriages. He said consultations are underway to make it a criminal offence.

“Forced marriage is little more than slavery,” Cameron said in his speech. “But I know that there is a worry that criminalisation could make it less likely that those at risk will come forward.”

But It’s Not Fair

As Prem talks about forced marriages, she can’t stop reflecting about her 14-year-old karate student who was forced into marriage. A karate instructor then, Prem, then 17-years-old, says she felt powerless.

Years later, she decided to take a stand.

As a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority that accounted and ensured effective and efficient police service, Prem was a lead member raising issues on honour killings and forced marriages. The MPA’s function has now been transferred to the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime.

Prem has also authored “But It’s Not Fair”, a fictitious book that talks about forced marriage.

“By reading it, you can know about what the issue is, and how to prevent it,” she says. “You have a power to make a difference.”

A Forceful Affair

As a magistrate, Prem says she frequently hears cases on domestic violence.

A recent case she mentions is about a 24-year-old man who abused his wife and children. He was gay and forced into marriage so he could be “cured”.

“He was being charged with criminal offense,” she says. “But he [is] a victim too.”

Forced marriages, as Prem points out, is not only an issue related to women. Men too become victims.

Often seen as “an Asian problem”, Prem says it prevails in “all classes and cultures”. Of the major reforms, apart from the legislation, the activist also stresses that the government and society should refrain from using terms such as “honour killing”.

“There’s nothing to do with honour,” she says elaborating that Freedom Charity is “taking a stand and making a difference” by using the correct language.

A charity founded by Prem to raise awareness on violent crimes, dishonour-based violence and forced marriages, it has a 24-hour helpline that people can call.

To date, the helpline has received about 1,800 calls.

Forced marriage, as Prem says, is more than a forceful relationship. It could lead to continual mental torture, abuse and rape.

“I’d say it should be a criminal offense,” she says. “I hope the government will have courage [to criminalise it].”

Originally published in Westminster News Online 

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