Honour based abuse and forced marriage

Honour based abuse (HBA) or forced marriage is an act that’s committed to control behaviour, and to protect or defend the honour of the family and/or community.

Honour based abuse is not about religion, it's about culture. It's to do with beliefs and customs and an expectation that women, in particular, must behave in a certain way. Breaking those rules or even just being suspected of breaking them, can be perceived as bringing 'shame' or 'dishonour' on the person, a family or the wider community. 

Honour based abuse and forced marriage are a crime.

Crimes committed in the name of honour may include assaults, disfigurement, sati (burning), sexual assault and rape, forced marriage, dowry abuse, female genital mutilation, kidnap, false imprisonment and stalking. In the most extreme cases, people can be killed. The people who commit HBA are usually other family members or friends within the same community.

Women and girls are the most common victims of HBA. However, it also affects a large number of men and boys.

Forced marriage

A forced marriage is where one or both people involved are forced into a marriage that they do not want to enter and do not consent to. Sometimes it is parents forcing their child to get married, or sometimes it can be the extended family or community. 

There is a clear difference between a forced marriage and an arranged marriage. In arranged marriages the families of both parties take a leading role in arranging the marriage, but both individuals still have a choice about whether or not to accept the arrangement. 

In forced marriages, one or both spouses do not or cannot consent to the marriage and often some element of duress is involved. Duress can include physical, psychological, sexual and emotional pressure.

Forced marriage is a criminal offence and perpetrators could also be prosecuted for other related offences including conspiracy, threatening behaviour, assault, kidnap, abduction, theft of personal belongings, threats to kill, imprisonment, rape and murder. 

Female genital mutilation (FGM)

Female genital mutilation (FGM) or female circumcision is the term for procedures which involve the partial or total removal of the external female genital organs, or injury to the female genital organs, for cultural or other non-medical reasons. 

FGM is an operation which is medically unnecessary, extremely painful and has serious health consequences for the girls and women involved. A number of girls die every year as a direct result of the procedure, from blood loss or infection. It inflicts severe physical and psychological damage, which can last a lifetime.

In the UK, FGM is child abuse and a crime. Anyone found guilty of an FGM offence, or aiding and abetting an offence, faces up to 14 years in prison.

It is unlawful for any UK National, or permanent UK resident to:

  • carry out the act itself
  • assist or arrange for a female to be taken abroad for the purpose of FGM
  • assist a female to mutilate her own genitalia
  • fail to protect a female from FGM

If you suspect someone you know is at risk of FGM, or has already had the procedure performed, you should report it immediately. 

Warning signs of FGM can include a child:

  • taking days off school
  • not participating in PE
  • in pain or with restricted movement
  • becoming withdrawn and upset, or other changes to their normal behaviour
  • whose parents originate from an FGM-practising country
  • talking about a long holiday to a country where FGM is routinely practiced
  • confiding that she is to have a 'special procedure' or celebration

Report it

HBA is often under-reported because those at risk can feel tied by family or community loyalty, be too distressed to speak out or are afraid of the consequences. 

If you do not feel that you can approach the police yourself, it is important that you tell someone else what is happening to you. It may be difficult to talk to someone in your family because you may not know where their loyalty lies. If you’re unsure, ask a trusted friend, teacher, solicitor or agency representative to speak to us on your behalf.

When reporting HBA your wishes will be respected. We are aware of the risks involved in speaking out about HBA and the need for confidentiality. All reports are confidential and we can help provide support and guidance through a number of recognised charities and support agencies.

Further advice and support

Karma Nirvana - Help and support for victims of HBA and forced marriage.

NSPCC - Advice on FGM.

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