Page last updated at 00:02 GMT, Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Forced marriage helpline to close

By Divya Talwar
BBC Asian Network

Jasvinder Sanghera
Jasvinder Sanghera said many victims had nowhere else to turn

The UK's only national helpline for victims of forced marriages and so-called "honour" violence is to cease operating after its funding was cut.

The Honour Network Helpline (HNV) has had more than 6,000 calls from people fearing for their lives or of being forced to marry against their will.

The government's Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) gave charity Karma Nirvana £43,000 to open the line in April 2008.

But the funding ran out a year later and donations have also dried up.

Laws to prevent forced marriages and protect those who have already fallen victim were introduced in England, Wales and Northern Ireland a year ago.

It will mean thousands of victims will lose a vital lifeline
Jasvinder Sanghera, Karma Nirvana

But Jasvinder Sanghera, a forced marriage survivor who founded Karma Nirvana, said the hundreds of people trying to escape desperate situations would be left with few other options if the line closed.

''It will mean thousands of victims will lose a vital lifeline.

"Many are running away from their families and only have us to turn to,'' she said.

The FMU has a domestic fund which voluntary organisations can apply for, but having received funding for its first year, Karma Nirvana is unable to re-apply for money for the same project.

"We cannot operate the helpline on public donations alone.

"If we do not secure proper funding the line will have to be closed by the end of the year,'' Jasvinder Sanghera said.

The telephone line runs from 0930 to 2100 seven days a week, and is staffed by former victims who work on an unpaid voluntary basis.

The government takes forced marriage and honour-based violence extremely seriously, and we remain committed to working with partners across the voluntary sector to support victims
Forced Marriage Unit

One volunteer, Preet Kaur, was forced into a marriage by her family and suffered six years of emotional and mental abuse before she contacted the helpline last year and managed to escape.

"I was drugged by my father and taken to India under sedation.

"I was kept there for two years and was forced to marry an illegal immigrant back in the UK,'' Ms Kaur said.

"With the help of Karma Nirvana I'm at a much better place and I have my freedom back and finally feel independent.

"The helpline is unique because it allows people to talk to survivors who can relate to what they are going through."

Karma Nirvana has begun a national petition to try and stave off closure, which it plans to present to the prime minister in order to get adequate funding.

A spokeswoman for the Forced Marriage Unit said: "The government takes forced marriage and honour-based violence extremely seriously, and we remain committed to working with partners across the voluntary sector to support victims."

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