Page last updated at 02:23 GMT, Sunday, 14 March 2010

South Asian 'slave brides' causing concern in UK

By Rahila Bano
BBC Asian Network

"Even an animal isn't treated in this way"

Hundreds of women who came to the UK from South Asia to marry say they have been treated as domestic slaves by their in-laws, the BBC has learned.

More than 500 who applied for residence in 2008-09 after their marriages broke down were deported because they could not prove any abuse had taken place.

Police and charities are concerned the incidents are not reported because of family pressure and fear of reprisals.

The UK Border Agency said measures were in place to try to prevent such abuse.

'Bloodied nose'

The women complaining of being treated as slaves by their families come from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

One woman in her 20s says she was imprisoned by her mother-in-law for three years at their house in the north of England. She does not want to be named.

She has now started to come to terms with her ordeal, a year after her mother-in-law was prosecuted, but she says she still lives with the fear inside her.

"One day my mother-in-law beat me up really badly," she says.

"There was a lot of blood coming out of my mouth and nose - I couldn't tell anyone, call anyone or go anywhere.

"I used to get up at dawn and clean the whole house, scrub the floors, clean the windows, do the washing, cook. In between I'd have to sew."

She tried to kill herself twice. Eventually she managed to escape after her mother-in-law left her bedroom door unlocked.

"Staying inside all the time, not being allowed to watch TV or go out... I thought I'd rather be dead than live like this."

Marai Larasi of Imkaan
Marai Larasi says there is a lack of services for women

Research by Imkaan, the national charity for Black and Asian victims of domestic violence, shows how difficult it is for other Asian women to report abuse. It surveyed 124 women who use Asian refuges across the country.

"A woman may not speak English, may not be aware of what's available in terms of services, she may be in a situation where everywhere she goes her abuser or a family member - who may be colluding in the abuse - is actually going with her," says Imkaan director Marai Larasi.

"So her opportunity to disclose the abuse is compromised. There's also a real lack of services for women in this position."

There are concerns that this lack of reporting is leading many abused women from South Asia to eventually be deported when their marriages break down and they apply to stay in the UK.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE LEAVE TO REMAIN APPLICATIONS GRANTED 2008/9
Pakistani: 240
Bangladeshi: 100
Indian: 100
Source: Home Office

Home Office rules state that any foreign national whose marriage breaks up within two years because of domestic violence can apply for indefinite leave to remain, but they must have reported the incident at the time to a person in authority - such as a GP or police officer.

Figures released by the Home Office show that more than half the number of South Asian brides who say they have been victims of domestic abuse in the UK have been deported in the last two years because they could not prove abuse had taken place.

Out of 980 applications for leave to remain in the UK in 2008 and 2009, only 440 women were allowed to stay.

In a statement, the UK Border Agency said: "We take our role in providing protection to women very seriously. We already have a number of measures in place to try and provide more directed support such as specific instructions, assessment of the quality of decisions and training for case workers."

After the highly-publicised case of Naseebah Bibi last year, Lancashire Police say they believe the problem is widespread in some communities.

Bibi was jailed for treating her three daughters-in-law as slaves at their home in Blackburn.

"The women are facing pressure, not only from immediate family but also their extended family abroad who may be relying on the people in this country to finance them to help improve their lives," says Lancashire Police's Det Con Dave Souch, who led the Naseebah Bibi inquiry.

His colleague Sgt John Rigby described it as the "Cinderella syndrome".

He adds: "The problem with slave labour, as it's been tagged, is probably far bigger than what we may expect - we can only go on the cases that are brought to our attention.

Sgt John Rigby
Sgt John Rigby says the problem is widespread

"But we know from the partner agencies we work alongside - like the Women's Aid Forums - who can tell you it's widespread."

Another woman, also in her 20s, was forced to flee her in-laws with her child. She was also too scared to reveal her identity.

She explained: "If I made tea, it was for her or someone else. I didn't have permission to drink tea with them because in the 15-20 minutes it would take, housework would not get done.

"She would swear at my family, and accuse me of taking things. If any money or jewellery had been misplaced I would get the blame."

She, too, was not allowed to speak to anyone outside of the family and was not allowed to go out by herself.

"Even a servant is allowed to have a break, but I was used like a machine," she recalls.

"The worst thing about it was that my husband wasn't there for me. I'd have done everything for him without complaining - but he didn't care about me or his baby."

She managed to escape after a year-and-a-half. She was rescued by her midwife, who alerted the authorities.

'Small proportion'

Parveen Javaid, domestic violence co-ordinator at Manchester-based Pakistani Resource Centre, said: "On average we deal with 20 to 30 cases a month where we give advice and support to women who are victims of mothers-in-law.

"The majority of cases I deal with are women who've been kept as slaves - abuse within the house."

To put this into context, just over 37,000 women have come to the UK on spousal visas in the last five years and while domestic violence workers say most of these marriages are genuine and successful, a small proportion of those marriages do fail.

What is clear is that this is still a hidden problem within South Asian communities.

It will remain so, unless women are encouraged to come forward and report it to the authorities.



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SEE ALSO
Forced marriage support offered
26 Nov 09 |  Lancashire
'Slavery' mother-in-law is jailed
29 May 09 |  Lancashire

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