Thursday, November 19, 2009

Not good news

Charities, in my opinion, should not be funded by governments or transnational organizations. If they are so funded they are not charities. However, it is the government's duty to protect the lives and liberty of a country's citizens. For the moment, that task as far as British people are concerned rests with Her Majesty's Government that has precious little else to do, there being this far larger and more important government, called the European Union.

Among those whose lives must be protected are young people who are kidnapped and abused as part of a forced marriage and who often have no-one to turn to for help. I say young people advisedly: most of them are girls and young women but there are boys and young men, too. They all need help.

So the news that the Government's Forced Marriage Unit has decided to stop funding the only existing helpline for victims of forced marriages is not exactly a good one.
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.
It is not entirely clear from the story whether funding stopped in April or has gone on till now but is about to stop. Sloppy reporting by the BBC as usual.

We do, however, get the usual platitude from some low level civil servant:
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
And that means what, precisely?

This article in the Independent, mostly about the Forced Marriage Unit issuing guidelines to Embassies and Consulates abroad on the subject of funding of return flights by people abducted into forced marriages, also refers to the slashed funding for the Honour Network Helpline and the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation. I suspect that in this case "rights" mean basic protection. It refers back to an article published a couple of days earlier, so the BBC is about ten days late with the story but, to be fair, other media outlets do not seem to have picked it up at all.

Here we get an answer to my question: the government cash ran out in April and since then, presumably, there was a certain amount of other funding, which is also running out.

The problem of forced marriages is being recognized by MPs and the government but there seems to be no reasonable strategy of dealing with it.
Last year the Home Affairs Select Committee admitted that the known numbers of forced marriages in the UK represented "just the tip of the iceberg" and called on the Government to provide "sufficient" funding for charities that provide emergency help lines and accommodation for victims. Despite this, the amount of cash available from the Forced Marriage Unit for charities specialising in forced marriage and honour violence prevention over the past year was just £65,000. Next year the Forced Marriage Unit's Domestic Programme Fund will be increased to £84,000 but because the grants are only available for new projects, Karma Nirvana and IKWRO have been rejected.
In other words, let's discard an organization that may have acquired some recognition and experience and start up a completely new one. That sounds like a good way of spending money.

The difficulty here is the word charity. Of course, charities should be self-financing. There should be no government money going to charities. So how do we deal with people who are victims of crime that has not been acknowledged or dealt with adequately until very recently?

In response to the second article there was a letter from two Parliamentary Under-Secretaries of State, FCO and Home Office (scroll down). In it they deal with the situation briskly:
The UK continues to lead the world in tackling forced marriage. You yourselves report that the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) is increasing its financial support for UK projects, from £65,000 last year to £84,000 this year.

We scrutinise all funding bids to select those offering best value for money, which meet accountability criteria. This means that not all applications will be successful. You report the Honour Network being under threat of closure for want of government funds; but the FCO and Home Office have received no formal request to fund the helpline this financial year. Indeed, officials have on several occasions offered to meet the NGO which runs the Honour Network, Karma Nirvana, to discuss how we can best work together. They have not, so far, taken us up on this offer. Additionally, while the Honour Network does immensely valuable work, it is not true to say that it is "Britain's only national helpline". The FMU's national helpline handled over 1,600 calls last year (and can be reached on 020-7008 0151, or, out of hours, via the FCO's Response Centre).
Good to know there is another helpline though whether people in those circumstances are likely to call the FCO's Response Centre is questionable and we know that they do not always get much help from the police.

The story of renewed funding as told in the Independent article is a little different:
A spokeswoman ... admitted that IKWRO had been unsuccessful in finding extra funding but added that Karma Nirvana were welcome to contact them, something Mrs Sanghera says she has tried to do consistently for six months.
The missing words there are those the BBC quoted about them taking forced marriage and attendant violence very seriously. I do think a little more information is needed as to why the IKWRO have been unsuccessful is needed. And could we the different officials co-ordinate their stories, please?

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