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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 September 2007, 14:23 GMT 15:23 UK
Ethnic domestic violence 'hidden'
Surjit Athwal
Surjit Athwal's body was never recovered after her murder
Forced marriage and domestic violence in Wales's black and ethnic communities are much bigger problems than official figures show, it is claimed.

Delegates at a conference in Swansea working on a new action plan to tackle the issues were told many crimes went unreported or families hushed them up.

About 300 people, many from the legal system and social services, attended.

It came a day after a west London woman who ordered the "honour killing" of her daughter-in-law was jailed for life.

Bachan Athwal, 70, and her son Sukhdave, 43, both of Hayes, west London, arranged the murder of Surjit Athwal, 27, who vanished during a trip to India in 1998, and were jailed by a judge at the Old Bailey.

The case was one of many discussed at Thursday's conference, organised by the Safer Swansea Partnership.

Official figures for the Swansea, Neath and Port Talbot area show last year there were 37 reported incidents of black and minority ethnic women fleeing or suffering domestic abuse. Fourteen were victims of forced marriage and seven of "honour" based abuse.

But Jasvinder Sanghera, who ran away from home at the age of 16 to avoid an arranged marriage and founded the Karma Nirvana refuge for Asian women, said the problem was likely to be on a far bigger scale.

Jasvinder Sanghera
The challenge you face is to give them the confidence to come forward
Jasvinder Sanghera

"Your biggest challenge will be getting to the victims," she said.

"There is certainly evidence of underreporting - the challenge you face is to give them the confidence to come forward."

She said in her case her family, and her mother in particular, made her feel immense guilt as if she had brought shame upon them all for not agreeing to go ahead with a pre-arranged marriage.

"She told me she couldn't walk the streets - people spat at her. It's happening in Swansea - it's happening in Wales."

"Premeditated"

Dr Aisha Gill, a senior lecturer in criminology who specialises in violence against women in black and ethnic minority communities, said cultural norms related to honour codes meant women could be at risk of violence. During her address she said that this could happen because women had relationships their families disapproved of or because they had refused an arranged marriage.

She said a family's honour could be dependent on the behaviour of a daughter.

"What masquerades as 'honour' is really men's need to control women's sexuality and their freedom."

Violence against women included forced marriages and child marriages - girls as young as 11 were involved in arranged marriages, she told the conference.

Dr Gill said that family "honour" killings cut across ethnic, class, and religious lines, though it was important to say that they occurred despite religion, rather than because of it. Victims were usually women but sometimes men.

She said there were no reliable statistics about these killings, as often women were simply reported missing or abducted to a foreign country before being murdered. But the UK government acknowledged there were at least 12 deaths a year.

The conference heard that family "honour" killings were most commonly a premeditated murder of a woman by a family member or members, in the name of restoring the family's social reputation.


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