Covid locks ‘honour’ victims in

Sister of murdered women highlights risk

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A child marriage survivor whose sister was murdered in a so-called honour killing has warned this year’s lockdown restrictions may have put more victims at risk.

Payzee Mahmod’s warning comes as she supports a bill to close a legal loophole that allows children under 18 to marry with parental consent.

Mahmod, 33, who grew up in a Kurdish community in London, was forced to marry an older man when she was 16, while her sister Banaz was also forced to marry while she was still a teenager.

Child marriage

After two years of marriage Banaz bravely left her husband, embarking on a relationship of her choosing.

But on 25 January 2006, Banaz was reported missing. Her body was found three months later, and the Mahmod sisters’ father, uncle and three other Kurdish men were later tried and sentenced to life imprisonment for her murder. Her story was recently dramatised by ITV in two-part drama Honour.

Mahmod, who got divorced soon after her sister’s death, is now a prominent campaigner against forced marriage, so-called honour-based abuse and FGM.

During this year’s lockdown Mahmod has seen an increase in girls and young women reaching out to her through social media for help.

Recently announced as a survivor ambassador for Liverpool-based charity Savera UK, Mahmod said many young girls are fearing for their safety.

“Working quite closely with a few charities, it is something that is a big concern for us,” said Mahmod. “Usually children would be at school and they could be more likely to raise the alarm, or teachers may notice that they are not in school, but I think with the lockdown one of the scary things was that this could happen and no one would be able to spot if anything
is wrong.

“It is a scary concept to think children are potentially having their marriages organised by their parents and being coerced into marriage.”

Mahmod’s concern follows warnings by charities that the ongoing coronavirus crisis is exacerbating the hidden scandal of child marriage in the UK, after new data revealed that referrals from professionals plummeted during the lockdown.

Campaigners are now concerned that local lockdowns, coupled with the ease with which parents can take their children out of school under the guise of Covid, will make it harder for teachers to spot and report abuse.

While reports of so-called honour-based abuse and forced marriage surged during lockdown, charity Karma Nirvana said calls relating to children fell dramatically, sparking concerns that girls were struggling to seek help without support from teachers – but Mahmod says children have been trying to seek support via platforms such as Twitter and Instagram.

“I get so many messages on all social media platforms, and especially during lockdown I was really shocked at the amount of young women who would contact me to say that they had watched my Ted talk, for example, and they are also going through some of the things I have described,” said Mahmod.

“It’s so heartbreaking reading messages like that. I have had messages from girls as young as 15 on social media, and during lockdown it has definitely heightened.”

Mahmod is one of a number of survivors now supporting a bill calling for the removal of a legal loophole that allows 16 and 17 year olds to marry in England and Wales with parental consent.

Presented to Parliament earlier this month, the bill, led by Mid Derbyshire MP Pauline Latham, argues that current legislation is at odds with the legal requirement since 2013 for young people to remain in education or training until they are 18.

Looking back on her experiences, Mahmod said many opportunities were missed by authorities to protect both her and her sister.

Mahmod is now committed to fighting against so-called honour-based abuse, and part of the challenge is encouraging people to speak out in a bid to protect victims.

“In terms of the communities that are affected by this [there is a stereotype] that this only happens in ethnic minority communities, but I think it’s really important to factor in that the underpinning of honour-based abuse is based on patriarchy and misogynistic views, and inequality and sexism. So anywhere you find there to be extremely conservative families or wider communities, these sorts of practices will prevail.

“If people think approaching someone might be insensitive or stepping on someone’s toes, you’ve got to ask the question: is this about me worrying about offending somebody or is this about me caring about a child’s safety?”

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