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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Why are UK authorities ignoring honour killings?

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It's a riotous and colourful ceremony in Northern England, a Pakistani Muslim wedding. The nerves

are on show from the groom, Usman, as tradition collides with the new.

As is custom, bride to be Nagina sits in a separate room, and Imam Irfan Chishti asks

three times if she's marrying of her own free will.

"I have to ask you, under no force, no pressure, do you Nagina...

No pressure, despite Mum and Dad sitting alongside, and a phalanx of cameras hired to capture

every precious moment.

Marriage is a pact between freely consenting and equal partners -- something most would

take for granted in 21st century Britain - and yet as the ceremony unfolds, Imam Chishti

stresses the point about women's rights. "But if the lady, if the bride, if the woman,

if the wife, if she says no then it ain't happenin'. If she'd had turned round and said

to me I'm not happy for this wedding to take place, then it doesn't matter how much has

been spent on this afternoon, it doesn't matter what thousands or millions have been spent,

that consent of hers is the most important thing".

The wedding of Usman and Nagina certainly gives every appearance of a happy, mutually

agreed union.

But for many young British women in the country's Asian and Middle Eastern communities, that's

not the case. Partners are preordained by parents. A code of behaviour enforced, and

if daughters step out of line, consequences can be severe.

"There are probably between eight to ten thousand forced marriages or threats of forced marriage

in the UK every year. We prosecuted more than two hundred cases last year of honour based

violence. What we have here are crimes in the name of

the father, the son and the blessed male members of the family".

"I think people who do these actions know categorically that what they're doing is religiously

wrong. There isn't a misunderstanding of the faith.

What there is, is just themselves trying to justify their actions through the faith.

Perhaps we need to speak out more about it".

Violent crime resulting from the honour codes of ethnic communities is a major problem.

British authorities acknowledge they don't know the true scale of it.

"We have kidnappings, abductions, assaults, sexual offences -- you know, anything that

you could imagine could happen does happen in the name of honour.

The most extreme examples are homicide and we have perhaps ten to twelve of those in

the United Kingdom every year which are honour related".

These young British women were murdered in a perverse attempt to restore family honour.

Twenty seven year old Surjit Athwal killed on the orders of her mother-in-law.

Twenty year old Banaz Mahmod, raped and strangled on the orders of her father and uncle.

And seventeen year old Shafilea Ahmed, suffocated by her parents.

Shafilea had rejected her parent's choice of a Pakistani Muslim husband. She wanted

to be a lawyer and to make her own choices. Her parents decided she was shaming the family,

beat her frequently and finally forced a plastic bag down her

throat. Her siblings were made to watch as a warning to them. Family honour was paramount.

When Shafilea's body was found in a river, her parents put on tearful displays feigning

innocence and outrage. Years later one of Shafilea's sister's smashed

the parent's conspiracy by giving evidence against them and they were sentenced to long

jail terms. Shafilea's repeated pleas for help were ignored,

even a suicide attempt failed to convince police she was in desperate trouble.

"She couldn't be any clearer - and they failed her. And that is the story

of many of our victims here in Britain today. There are many Shafilea Ahmeds out there.

When somebody is murdered, for example -- and we've seen horrific murders here in

Britain -- Shafilea Ahmed was one -- there was a silence in that community. Where was

the outcry of people standing up and speaking out, and saying 'This is wrong.' Nobody is

doing this in the name of Islam. You know, we need to go out there and preach in our

communities not to do this to your children. That doesn't exist. Who is being silent? Who

is being...? Silent. Who is being silent? The people within our communities that are

being silent are those who commit these crimes, those who don't commit these crimes. So good

people are turning a blind eye. Our so-called community leaders. So they exist in the form

of a religious leader, a community leader, a councillor, a politician. They're the people.

And the ones who are breaking the silence are the victims themselves. Organisations

like us. We're the ones breaking the silence, but we do that at a cost.

Saturday night in Leeds, one of the biggest cities with a significant Asian population.

Teenagers flock to the city square, having fun. Many Asian girls don't enjoy these freedoms.

Some would even be barred from attending an event as benign as the annual light show,

restricted in what they can wear, whom they can talk to, where they can go.

"These teenagers, born here in Britain, have a life whereby the only place they have

independence and the right to think freely is in school. As soon as they go home and

the front door is closed, it's as if they're living in some rural part of Pakistan or India

even though they're living in Britain". More than four million people in England identify

as Asian, almost eight per cent of the population, predominantly from South Asia - India, Pakistan

and Bangladesh. In a recent survey of 500 young British people

from Asian backgrounds, two-thirds said families should live according to the concept of honour.

Almost one in five said physical punishment of women was justified for certain behaviours,

such as going out at night unaccompanied, dressing a certain way or wanting to marry

a man deemed unacceptable. And six per cent of the young men surveyed said, under certain

circumstances, honour killings could be justified. Changing deeply entrenched attitudes and practices

that subjugate women is not proving easy, and so law enforcement agencies are developing

more sophisticated approaches, starting with professionals who understand what drives honour

crimes. "At the moment in so many communities, in

so many families, it's merely used to suppress women, to oppress women. They are the only

ones that carry the honour on their family. So if they are perceived to have misbehaved

in some way or made their own choices, then they have dishonoured the family. If men do

the same, well it's men. You know, they can do what they like, and as I said, honour can

be good, a force for good -- regrettably it's been used too often to control women".

Nazir Afzal is the chief prosecutor in England's North West. He's a Muslim who makes a very

clear distinction between cultural practices and crime.

"Forced marriage is one of the last forms of slavery in the world. You can imagine total

and utter despair. So many of our victims of forced marriage will

harm themselves - will actually kill themselves - and that... because that's the only way

they can see out of this". From the law courts to the police beat, there's

a growing realisation that some Asian families and communities have been using their culture

as a shield to justify the notion that family honour can be regained by violence. "That

concept exists in every Asiatic mind, whether they be in Great Britain, whether

they be in Switzerland, whether they be in Pakistan... India -- wherever -- it's a concept.

It doesn't stop just because you have crossed a border".

Detective Constable Palbinder Singh is a Sikh who's helped crack some difficult honour crime cases.

I've always advocated to ignore cultural sensitivity.

It's a ruse. 'We won't interfere with that family, it's

their culture.' Well hang on a minute, crimes are being committed, people's lives are being

destroyed, people's freedoms are being suppressed. 'Oh but that's okay, that's their culture.'

Well, have you actually spoken to the people who've been denied these basic freedoms? And

that's the problem with this concept of diversity, it's now crossing over into political correctness

and it's simply not working". There is this mistaken perception that you

know it's culturally acceptable for forced marriage to happen, and police officers, along

with many of the professionals have been scared to address that issue, which is why we really

need to change that mindset and that moral blindness. How much does a fear of being called

racist play into it? I think it can play a big part. No police

officer or any other agency wants to be branded racist, but that's something we've absolutely

got to get past because we just have a clear duty to protect the victim and safeguard them.

Detective Sergeant Trudy Runham of the West Midlands Police has worked with many victims

of honour based violence and tries to educate other officers.

What we do know is that the rate of Asian females, their suicide rate is three times

higher than anybody else. That has been said to compare only to soldiers' suicide rate

coming back from Afghanistan, which obviously they're coming back from a war zone. So what

does that tell you about how these females in this case are feeling and self-harm is

absolutely a key indicator of these issues.

It was the horrific killing of Banaz Mahmod that catapulted honour crime into public consciousness

in Britain and exposed the failings of police. "On the fourth occasion she takes a list and

she names the people that are going to kill her. At the top of there is her father, her

uncle, other male members of the family, she said these are the people that are going to

kill me. If anything happens to me, these are the people who did it".

Banaz Mahmod was a young Muslim woman from an Iraqi Kurd background. She told police

her family was planning to kill her because she'd left an abusive arranged marriage and

was seen kissing a man outside a tube station. Months later, lying in a hospital emergency

room, she explained how her father had tried to kill her.

"And she was still not believed. She was dealt with as being melodramatic, fantasising".

Jasvinder Sanghera knows the horrors of honour violence. She knows that Banaz Mahmod should

have been saved and she needs these trainee detectives to know where police went wrong.

"Would you believe her? As a professional the response was surely not. You're not going

to be killed for being seen kissing a boy". Just a month later, the twenty year old was

dead. She'd been raped, garrotted, her body packed in a suitcase.

Her uncle and father were convicted of ordering the killing. Banaz's sister Bekhal gave evidence

against them. "And all I could say is devilish... that's all

I could say... nothing good. How could somebody think that kind of thing, and actually do

it to their own flesh and blood? Jasvinder Sanghera has a strong sense of the

suffering of Banaz and other victims because she narrowly escaped a forced marriage and

now campaigns against it. She was the sixth of seven daughters, plus

a much favoured son, raised in a close-knit Sikh community.

"This is the house that I grew up in and yeah this is the wall me and my sisters used to

sit on. My dad would be standing at the fence having his crafty cigarettes.

Today, looking at the house, I see nothing but pain in honesty. It's really an empty

shell for me now".

Jasvinder Sanghera describes a claustrophobic upbringing where girls lived by strict rules

or were claimed to bring shame on their family. One by one she saw her older sisters married

off, at about fourteen or fifteen years of age. "I watched at least three of my sisters

being taken out of school and then being taken abroad to marry a stranger. They'd disappear.

They'd come back as somebody's wife. Their appearance changed. They'd wear a wedding

ring on their finger and nobody was seeing this as abnormal, it

was just a normality".

When her sisters complained of beatings by their husbands, her mother

would insist their duty was to stay in the marriages.

Then one day after school, fourteen year old Jasvinder was shown a photo of the man her

parents declared she would marry. "And then she told me that I was promised

to him from the age of eight and I just looked at her, not taking it seriously.

I took an overdose and one of my sisters said 'If you think you're going to get out of it

that way, you've got another thing coming'. Everywhere I turned they were just sending

me back in and I felt isolated... suicidal. I felt completely trapped".

"The bedroom there with the window slightly ajar, is the room where my family locked me

in the room there when I said I wouldn't marry the person. They took me out of school and

I was held a prisoner in that room for a long time". "How long for?""I can't remember the

exact time. It was a number of weeks, but I remember planning my own escape".

When she eventually did run away, her mother said Jasvinder was dead to her.

Jasvinder now runs a charity called Karma Nirvana that tries to prevent honour crimes

and supports victims. On a tour through her old neighbourhood, she worries about girls

suffering at the hands of their families, just like she did.

She wants schools to be

more alert to the signs, in particular, unexplained absences. "If you're Asian and missing from

education, the same questions are not asked as the white counterparts here in Britain,

and that has not changed because we know there are hundreds go missing off our school rolls.

Maybe they're not being forced into marriage but the point is, ask the question and look

into it. They're not even doing that".

What's being recorded as truancy may well

be punishment by parents or being sent overseas to be married much earlier than the legal

age in Britain. In 2008 the British Government reviewed school records to see how many pupils

had gone missing. "They discovered hundreds, hundreds of young

girls and by that I mean eleven, twelve, thirteen year olds who would just disappear off the

school rolls". The prosecutor says no one knows how many

of those girls were taken from their country. "Imagine the fear, you're a British born and

bred schoolgirl and sent to the airport. You know you're being

sent to marry a man you've never met, in a different country. Or maybe you don't know.

Many girls think they're going on an exciting family trip, only to discover the truth later.

Many girls go on the school holidays and simply never return. What about those ones who do

suspect? What can they do here, their last chance to avoid a life not of their own choosing".

Police and security are being trained to spot young women who may be in trouble. Jasvinder

Sanghera's son-in-law Anup Manota, represents the charity Karma Nirvana. His message is

that alert officers can save lives and that sometimes passengers will take desperate measures.

So as the last resort we always said the 'spoon in the knickers' technique... if you have

that suspicion and you don't want to go, and you have that doubt.

The idea of hiding a metal object to trigger security alarms was suggested by a counsellor

at the Karma Nirvana help line, advising a desperate young woman on her way to a forced

marriage overseas.

"So the call handler said, put a spoon in your knickers, which when you go through security it will go off and at that point you're going

to be stopped by a security guard, and say I'm being forced to marry". "And did she?""Which

is exactly what she did and it saved her life".

One of the volunteers is Sal, a vision-impaired Muslim university student. Her desire to leave

home for student accommodation led to harassment and rejection by some members of her family.

It's seen as dishonourable, a girl wanting to do these things, a girl wanting to gain

this independence is seen as dishonourable in Asian families. I mean I don't think what

I've done is dishonourable, and you know, I'm proud of my roots, I'm proud of being

Pakistani and I'm proud of my religion. What I'm not proud of is the way that people kind

of manipulate culture and religion and kind of, and you know, as a result of that sort

of honour based violence occurs. Sal says that despite abuse and forced marriages,

many girls choose to stay with their families. Losing your family is really, really difficult.

It's not -- you know, even though I might be in touch with sort of distant members of

my family, often losing that immediate family is really hard. It's really difficult to cope

with. But one senior Sikh figure says while a huge

problem exists, it's not in his community. It is just a big misunderstanding of who Sikhs

are..." Veteran journalist Indarjit Singh, was appointed to the House of Lords two years

ago -- a measure of the importance of the Sikh community. He insists honour-based abuse

is not a major issue for his community. There is no honour code, I don't know this

is all jargon that is borrowed. Jasvinder Sanghera is a prominent campaigner

with a Sikh background, and she tells a story of... she has made a

career out of saying these things! Are you saying that what she's saying did not happen?

To get a full picture, you need to look at the wider picture. If she looks at her own

family background and then expands from there, that is wrong. That does seem to

contradict accounts we've had from people within the Sikh community that there is a

problem? So those sort of things occur, I wouldn't

dismiss them for a moment, but it is the exaggerating,

The British Government is so alarmed by the frequency of violence that it plans to criminalise

forced marriages, like Australia did earlier this year, and the Foreign Office has a special

forced marriage unit which attempts to track down British citizens taken overseas.

And there's another significant problem. And there's another significant problem. Some

Asian officers subscribe to the traditional honour code.

I'm not saying they can't properly investigate, I'm saying they don't wish to investigate

it. They may have the same ideological view as

the suspect family. What about you as a Sikh? Are you feeling

divorced from your community? I think it would be fair to say I was divorced

from my community, using your words. And when I say 'my community', I'm talking about community

leaders because they're the drivers, they don't wish for me to speak publicly on these

and other issues on which I do so frequently. They are from a generation that's completely

different from mine. They have come from an Indian sub-continent and there's a vast gulf

separating the two

Today, honour crime campaigner Jasvinder Sanghera enjoys life on her own terms as a mother of

three. Her eldest daughter Natasha is a lawyer and expecting a child

Natasha married for love in a ceremony blending the old and the new.

Jasvinder needed to learn from scratch about the Sikh customs, never having had her own

traditional wedding. It was a bittersweet day. No one was there

from Jasvinder's family. Running away to avoid a forced marriage caused a deep rift. Thirty

years on, most of Jasvinder's remaining relatives still shun her.

"When I think that had she not have made that choice, then a lot of the other things

that ... well, the life that we've all lived, me and my brother and my sister would not

be the same.... I probably wouldn't have been able to study in the same way that I did.

I wouldn't have made the same career choices that I did....."

How do you feel about your mum and everything she's gone through?" "Immensely proud. I don't

think I could be prouder of my mum and we're just like, you know, best friends

really, and I think it's because of my mum's experiences".

For many British-Asian women there will be no fairy tale wedding. The notion of family

honour will continue to dictate whom they marry and when - and even where the marriage

will take place. Not a happy ending.

The Description of Why are UK authorities ignoring honour killings?