Archive for March, 2008

Southall Black Sisters – Update on funding situation

Demonstration for 1st April 2008 CANCELLED: We have had to cancel this demonstration because at the last minute, (28 March 2008) Ealing Council decided to postpone its decision about funding for domestic violence services in Ealing until May 2008. The Council is unable to decide as to which organisation to award the funding to! Although it is extremely unlikely that the grant will be awarded to SBS (we have made it clear that we need the funds to continue to meet the needs of black and minority women in Ealing), it does show that your support is making a difference. It is making it difficult for the Council to take decisions! This means that there no decision will be made at the Council’s Cabinet Meeting on 1 April 2008 and SBS will be given an interim grant for a further two months.

At the end of May 2008, SBS will still be faced with the need to cut or severely reduce our services to black and minority women in Ealing. Your support is therefore still vital, especially as legal proceedings are still contemplated on the grounds that Ealing Council has acted unlawfully by not carrying out a proper race equality impact assessment.

We will now be planning a demonstration in May and will keep you posted about further developments including our legal challenge.

A big THANK YOU for all your support so far. Please continue your support.

(See original posting at https://womensphere.wordpress.com/2008/03/14/southall-black-sisters-funding-situation-update/

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An underage teenager was offered a variety of jobs in the sex industry when she visited her Jobcentre.

The 17-year-old girl, who wishes to remain anonymous, was left shocked and disgusted after the sleazy vacancies appeared on a special machine which searches for jobs in the Wembley branch.

One job was looking for webcam operators for a website, the other as a hostess for a strip club and a third was for a nude model.

Although the vacancies, which also feature on the Jobcentre’s website, state they were not for applicants under the age of 18, the girl was able to print off the details and show it to her older sister who contacted the Times.

The 28-year-old said: “This is absolutely sickening. How could the Jobcentre be advertising vacancies like that? There’s no way this should be allowed.”

The Times visited the website advertising for webcam operators, which we have decided not to name, and its home page contained raunchy images of both men and women.

Users are prompted to click on one of the featured ‘models’ who will strip off and talk explicitly to them live through a webcam costing from a whopping £39-an-hour.

The workers’ hourly rate is £10.

The shocked sister, who also visited the site, said: “I was visibly shocked by what I saw. Once a girl enters that kind of world what happens next? They could end up entering a real seedy world.”

Denise Marshall is the chief executive of Eaves, a charity which supports vulnerable woman. She said: “Jobs in the sex industry are exploitative and damaging and it is unacceptable for a Governmental agency to be offering them.

“Does the Government really want young women to think that the only opportunities open to them in the labour market are those which objectify and exploit them? What is even more shocking is that these vacancies are being offered to 17-year-olds. There is clearly no system for monitoring the age of jobseekers or for blocking vacancies in the sex industry to under-18s. Who knows how many other underage girls have been offered similar vacancies? This young woman’s experience is shocking and I am not surprised that she and her family are upset.”

A Jobcentre spokesman said they were legally bound to advertise the vacancies, providing they were within the law, after a decision by the High Court in 2003. He added: “We have safeguards in place to ensure customers are fully aware of the nature of these jobs.

“We thoroughly investigate complaints about employers including those in the adult entertainment industry a service to specific employers has been withdrawn in the past. Jobcentre Plus customers can choose whether or not to pursue these vacancies.”

http://www.wktimes.co.uk/content/brent/wembleychronicle/news/story.aspx?brand=WKCOnline&category=news&tBrand=northlondon24&tCategory=newswkc&itemid=WeED20%20Mar%202008%2015%3A48%3A35%3A917

A Panorama investigation has uncovered how girls, sometimes as young as 12, are being groomed for prostitution by gangs on the streets of Britain.

In what is often a hidden crime, gangs are targeting young girls in a process that starts as adolescent fun but soon leads to abuse, drug addiction and prostitution.

The girls are often flattered by the attentions of older boys and like the idea of having an older boyfriend, but the initial friendship can soon turn ugly.

We spoke to “Jane” who got caught up with one of the gangs. She told Panorama that it all started when she met a group of boys in the local town centre:

“The grooming starts when you meet them and they’re nice to you and take you for McDonalds and buy you cigarettes. I was flattered by it at first cos older boys were interested in you, which at 13 is nice.”

But things took a sinister turn when the boys brought their friends, who were older, and Jane realised she’d been passed on. The abuse started with Jane being held down by two of the men while another raped her.

She was too scared to tell her parents and within weeks she was trapped and pimped, being forced to have unprotected sex with a succession of men day after day.

She explains how the gang introduced her to drugs, building up a debt that had to be worked off by sleeping with lots of different men. Although the gang was making money from Jane, she never saw a penny of it.

All this time, Jane was still living at home and her parents had no idea what was going on. She eventually found the strength to leave the gang, despite the threats against her and her family.

She reported the case to the police but later withdrew her allegations, worried that the police could not guarantee her safety. The case was investigated but the police said they couldn’t find enough evidence for a prosecution.

Hidden crime

Police have had success in breaking up gangs who’ve trafficked young women into the UK for the sex trade. And grooming of children by predators on the internet has rightly gained a huge amount of attention.

But British girls being moved around the country for abuse has attracted almost no attention.

The pimping of children doesn’t appear anywhere on the government’s official targets for the police. Chief Constable Timothy Brain, Association of Chief Police Officers lead on prostitution explained why:

“It certainly has to fight for air space amongst a plethora of other challenges and priorities for the police service, and certainly if forces don’t have intelligence about a significant problem existing in their area, they’re not likely to include it as part of the policing plan priorities.”

But the Home Office have known about the problem for years. A decade ago officials were so concerned about child prostitution that police and social services pilot projects were set up in Wolverhampton and Nottingham to learn how to tackle it.

In Wolverhampton the team was led by Det Sgt Lyndon Whitehouse:

“Over an 18-month period we investigated 91 cases. In 71 of those we uncovered evidence of coercion and exploitation. In 35 cases we brought a prosecution, 35 individual adults were charged with offences in connection with the exploitation of children for prostitution and virtually all of those people were convicted.”

His team showed how these crimes could be tackled not only in Wolverhampton, but throughout the country as they tracked gangs taking young girls from city to city.

Today the situation is bleak. We’ve only been able to find two police forces in the United Kingdom that have dedicated units working with other agencies.

In Blackburn, the new police unit fighting child prostitution works with social services, education and health teams. But does it have enough officers for the task?

We asked the Home Office, if, a decade after the pilot project in Wolverhampton and Nottingham demonstrated the problem could be tackled, the government was doing enough. Vernon Coaker MP, Under-Secretary of State for Policing, responded:

“I’m saying we have done better in terms of the support we give to victims, if we talk to police and prosecutors we know it’s a difficult area to prosecute. Part of the problem is how we give the confidence to the victims in order to give evidence.”

And the government points to a rising annual number of successful prosecutions for child grooming and prostitution offences, Vernon Coaker said:
“It’s 44 people convicted under the 2003 Act. We look back to the eight years under the old Act… the eight years before 2003 [and] there were actually just six convictions.”

The next day the Home Office told Panorama to confirm that pimping children will be covered in new police targets and the government has said it will produce a warning video for use in all schools.

Meanwhile, one of the oldest crimes in history continues to threaten children at the threshold of adult life.

If you have been affected by the issues raised, you can call the Coalition for the Removal of Pimping helpline on 0113 240 3040.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/panorama/7302713.stm

Teenage Sex For Sale an investigation by Panorama on BBC One was shown on Thursday 27 March 2008. If you have the right media player on your computer you can watch a video of the programme on line by clicking on this link http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/check/player/nol/newsid_7310000/newsid_7318200?redirect=7318264.stm&news=1&nbram=1&bbram=1&nbwm=1&bbwm=1

Or if you have digital tv with ‘on demand’ it will be available to watch until Wednesday of next week.

——————————————————
See also Child pimping lessons ‘ignored’ http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/west_midlands/7317595.stm

The RSPCA is seeking “foster homes” for the pets of people fleeing abusive relationships.

According to the welfare organisation, women – and sometimes men – who are being attacked can fear that if they escape the abuse their spouse will take out their anger on the pet.

Welsh Women’s Aid, which helped find safe refuge for more than 1,200 women and 1,000 children of abused mothers in 2006-07, welcomed the RSPCA initiative. Very few refuges for abused spouses can provide shelter for pets due to health and safety regulations and allergy concerns.

Spokeswoman Amy Kitcher said, “We’re all in favour of it. It’s removing a barrier to stopping women leaving abusive relationships.”

Since the pet-fostering scheme was launched in Wales, 15 families have been helped and the search is on for more volunteers.

It follows successful programmes in England. Bernice Dawes, from Bristol, urged Welsh families to look after pets; she has taken in 10 cats since 2004.

She said, “When the animals first come to you they are very traumatised. They will have seen a lot of violence or had very violent things done to them.”

But she added, “It’s very rewarding. You see them visibly relaxing.

“Just be patient and take your time and wait for the animal to come to you. Eventually the cat will come out and want to know you and be nuzzled and so on.”

Ms Dawes said she was sad to see the pets go, but delighted she could help people escape domestic abuse.

“I think a lot of women hold on for longer because they don’t want their pets to be harmed,” she said.

“Seeing an animal and owner happy when they are reunited makes it easier to part with the animal when it is time for them to go home.”

Carolyn Southwell, who manages the project, said, “It is thanks to people like Bernice that we are able to operate the PetRetreat scheme. The scheme is fully committed to the animals that are caught up in domestic abuse and fits hand in glove with the work that we already do within the RSPCA.”

All the costs of fostering are met by the RSPCA. Each animal is assessed before they go to a home.

Ms Southwell said, “By helping these animals, as we do in our everyday work, we are in a position to be able to help the families involved.

“A human victim of domestic abuse once said to us, ‘If I did not own pets then I would have left years ago.’ Our scheme offers such victims a safe home for their animals for as long as they need it. “If we can step in and break that cycle, we will be doing a tremendous amount to help both people and animals.”

Ms Dawes said abusive spouses often used pets as hostages, saying, “A lot of the time the perpetrator of the violence will use the cat as a lever: ‘If you go the cat gets it.’”

Research indicates that domestic abuse continues to be a major threat.

Women’s Aid said one in four women in Wales and England will experience domestic abuse by their partner or ex-partner at some time in their life. Across the UK, two women a week are murdered by a partner or ex-partner.

Domestic abuse accounts for nearly a quarter of violent crime and a women will be assaulted on average 35 times before reporting it to the police.

Labour AM Carl Sargeant, a supporter of the scheme, said, “We mustn’t forget that pets are also in danger from violence in the home. They are frequently threatened, injured or killed by the perpetrator who uses violence toward the pet to frighten and intimidate their partner and children, so it is important that there are safe retreats for pets to go to too.”

A pet-fosterer will mainly care for dogs and cats but could have the opportunity to look after animals such as rabbits, guinea pigs or birds.

http://icwales.icnetwork.co.uk/news/wales-news/2008/03/27/foster-a-pet-to-help-owners-flee-domestic-abuse-91466-20678807/

That is the alarming finding of a city-wide scrutiny inquiry into domestic abuse which goes before the full council next week.

Concerned councillors are now calling for a massive campaign across Birmingham aimed at education people and local communities about the consequences of domestic violence and the services available to deal with it.

Nationally, an average of two women a week die at the hands of violence in the home.

Coun Mark Hill, chairman of the local services and community safety scrutiny committee, which undertook the report, said: “Domestic violence is an under-reported crime.

“Figures show that, on average, two women per week die as a result, while the impact on communities and the local economy is huge.

“The cost to Birmingham, for example, is estimated to be £97 million per annum which includes services such as local authority housing and social services and costs to the police and health service.”

The report sits alongside an ongoing three-year strategy which aims to bring together a range of partners involved in tackling domestic violence including public and voluntary agencies, the police and Birmingham and Solihull Women’s Aid.

Coun Hill added: “We should be unequivocal in demonstrating that the city council and partners are committed to holding perpetrators to account and making men, women and children across the city safer.”

Copies of the report are available from the council on http://www. birmingham.gov.uk/scrutiny

Domestic Violence: The Facts

* Women are more likely than a man to be injured through domestic violence.
* Women are more likely to be repeatedly abused – 47 per cent of the male population had experienced a single incident, whilst women on average experience 20 incidents per year.
* Women are more likely to be frightened and more likely to be abused post separation.
* Women are more likely to be murdered – 42 per cent of women who are killed die at the hands of a current or former partner, while only seven per cent of male murder victims are killed by a current or former partner, with a fifth being a same sex partner.
* Men are less likely to be impoverished by their experiences of violence.

http://www.birminghammail.net/news/birmingham-news/2008/03/28/domestic-violence-costing-birmingham-100m-a-year-97319-20686420/

Open Letter 3/28/2008 Update: A New Underground Railroad is Born
Subject: The Dunbar Village Atrocity

In the past week, a rapidly-moving viral email campaign was launched, and thousands of concerned black citizens spread the word about a shocking crime against a Black woman and her 12 year old son, in which crimes against nature were committed.

This email, entitled “Stop Al Sharpton and the NAACP from endangering Black Women,” described a stunning betrayal in which the NAACP and Al Sharpton held a press conference and demanded bail consideration for three suspects in custody for the crime.

Concerned Black citizens all around the country were outraged by the actions of the NAACP and Al Sharpton, and many vowed to withdraw volunteering and financial support from these agencies “until they make the safety of Black women and children a priority.”

For full story and links go to http://blackwomenvote.blogspot.com/2008/03/open-letter-3282008-update-new.html

See also:

Al Sharpton defends the Dunbar Village rape suspects, throws black women and children under the bus at http://blackwomenvote.blogspot.com/2008/03/al-sharpton-defends-dunbar-village-rape.html

Stop Al Sharpton and the NAACP from endangering Black Women!

This mass open letter is a call to action for all black people who care about the safety and welfare of black women and children in America. If you are concerned about the recent developments about Dunbar Village, please copy the post below, and email it to all of your friends and coworkers.

WE WILL NO LONGER BE SILENT ABOUT VIOLENCE AGAINST BLACK WOMEN.

Make the title of your email: Stop Al Sharpton and the NAACP from endangering Black Women!

Let us know in the comments section if you are supporting the movement to protect black women from black on black violence.

Read this is full at http://blackwomenvote.blogspot.com/2008/03/stop-al-sharpton-and-naacp-from.html

Sexual violence against women is rampant in DRC but the majority of perpetrators, especially in “no-law” zones, go unpunished, according to a UN independent human rights expert.

In South Kivu Province, for example, 14,200 rape cases were registered between 2005 and 2007 but only 287 were taken to court, Titinga Frederic Pacere, the UN Human Rights Council’s independent expert on the state of human rights in the DRC, told reporters on 14 March.

He expressed concern over the human rights situation in the DRC, saying insecurity was almost everywhere, especially in the east, and state authority had not reached all areas.

Calling for the creation of an international jurisdiction for the DRC that would do more than just judging but also “scare”, Pacere added: “If we have a court, warlords would be cautious.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW) had urged the Council to intensify its engagement on “the neglected human rights crisis” in countries such as the DRC.

“The DRC still has to overcome serious and widespread human rights violations, including arbitrary arrest and detention of people linked to the political opposition in Kinshasa, the use of torture, and accountability for war crimes committed during the armed conflict,” HRW noted in a statement issued on 3 March.

“Recent events in eastern DRC demand targeted action by the Council,” it added. “A peace deal was reached in late January with the government and all armed groups in North and South Kivu, following a renewal of armed conflict in which more than 400,000 people were displaced, scores of civilians were killed or abducted, and widespread rape and looting and destruction of property occurred.

“That deal has seemed increasingly fragile in recent weeks, and the Council could play a crucial role by creating a separate mechanism to monitor the implementation of the human rights commitments contained in the agreement.”

Aid organisations working in DRC have decried the high incidence of rape and called for more action to combat it. According to Oxfam GB, rape and sexual slavery in DRC are used “as a systematic weapon of war”, which has led to the rapid advance of HIV/AIDS.

Médecins Sans Frontières-Suisse has noted that since 2003, between 30 and 500 patients reported sexual assaults each month in Ituri. Panzi general hospital in Bukavu, South Kivu’s capital, admits at least 10 victims of sexual assault daily, an average of 3,600 cases a year, according to its director, Denis Mukwege Mukengere. Since 2000, an estimated 16,000 victims of rape, some suffering from obstetric fistula, have been treated at the hospital.

Yakin Erturk, special rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Council on violence against women, has estimated that 4,500 cases of rape were reported in South Kivu in the first six months of 2007 alone, with many more going unreported. Sexual violence, she noted, was perceived as “normal” by local communities.

According to the UN World Food Programme: “Rape remains a daily threat for women in eastern DRC: in the fields, on their way back from market or in their own homes. Victims say all the armed groups are responsible.”

Following a visit to the region in 2007, John Holmes, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, called for a response to the scourge.

“Despite many warnings, nothing quite prepared me for what I heard last month from survivors of a sexual violence so brutal it staggers the imagination and mocked my notions of human decency,” he wrote in the Los Angeles Times on 11 October. “Sexual violence has been a particularly awful – and shockingly common – feature of the conflict in Congo.”

According to analysts, sexual violence against women and girls is a facet of warfare that is often used as a weapon of terror to inflict physical and psychological damage. But in DRC, it is “systematic” and could be prosecuted as a crime against humanity or as a form of genocide.

http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/IRIN/54adc57b1de7f9627334202d58d1f9f9.htm

The Liberian government has created a special court to deal with not only rising rape cases, but also other forms of violence against women, Liberia’s Information Minister Laurence Bropleh told IRIN.

“The government has agreed to set up this court and the building is being built right now,” he said on 19 March.

During Liberia’s 14 year civil conflict 850,000 people fled their homes and at least 270,000 were killed. During the war the rape of girls and women was widespread. Since peace was sealed in 2003, sex crimes – and impunity for them – have persisted throughout the country.

Although a rape law was enacted in December 2005 which made rape a crime with a maximum of a life sentence for those found guilty, rape cases have continued to rise according to rights groups. Half of reported rape cases are attacks against teenage girls between the ages of 10 to15 years old according to government statistics.

“Unlike other crimes like murder, heft of property, or criminal mischief, the regular courts do not regularly deal with rape or sexual violence cases, either because the complainants are not willing to pursue the case or state prosecutors are busy handling other cases,” a senior Liberian judge who requested anonymity told IRIN

UNMIL Independent Human Rights Expert in Liberia Charlotte Abaka told reporters on 7 March she is “encouraged” by the creation of the new dedicated court. “The undue delay in prosecuting such cases will now be a thing of the past,” she said.

Liberia’s women rights groups led by the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia (AFELL) had been advocating for the setting up of the special court for two years.

The organisation frequently blamed the slow progress of rape cases through the existing courts for the lack of justice for rape victims.

Liberia’s Chief Justice Johnnie Lewis as recently as October 2006 had rejected calls for the establishment of the court.

“Having such as court has been a dream of AFELL and it is now a reality,” said Zeor Bernard, Vice President of AFELL. “We are now working with the prosecutorial section of the Ministry of Justice to also have a special unit to prosecute sexual and gender based violence cases,” he said.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Liberia has already established the Women and Children Protection Section (WCPS) of the national police dealing with sexual and other abuses against women. Officials there say rape is the crime most frequently reported to the section.

The United Nations Mission in Liberia’s (UNMIL) latest human rights situation report released in November 2007 identified the failure to try cases of gender-based violence as a “challenge to the rule of law and the protection of fundamental human rights” in post-war Liberia.

“The failure of the state to prosecute impacted negatively on the rights of women and girls to equal protection afforded by the law”, the report said.

Liberia’s Gender Based Violence Taskforce head Patricia Kamara who is also the country’s Assistant Gender Affairs Minister told IRIN that the new court was a victory for women rights advocates.

“From what we know the criminal courts have been pre-occupied with cases dealing with other crimes and this new court will surely bring relief to women,” she said.

http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/IRIN/86ab3b0e58d5a3df3c10ccef9565c62a.htm

By early evening the corridors of the Soldier Bar brothel in a busy commercial area of Accra were already filled with long queues of young girls and their clients, when heavily armed police stormed in, arresting all 160 of the girls.

The targets of the raid, which took place in February, were the 60 girls among them who were aged under 16 who had been recruited according to brothel manager Matthew Abanga to service the brothel’s teenage clients.

“We drove the [young boys] away initially and did not allow them to come here, but after a while we realised we could make more money if we can meet their demands by supplying them with younger prostitutes of the same age, so we started recruiting child prostitutes as well,” he said.

With an estimated 20, 000 children on the streets of Accra, many already engaged in child labour, Abanga and the owners of the brothel did not find it difficult recruiting child sex workers. “We knew it was wrong but the money was good,” Abanga told IRIN.

Dr. Obiri Yeboah, a sociologist at the Accra Polytechnic who has studied the sex trade in Ghana said urbanisation is mainly to blame for what he says is a growing prostitution phenomenon, as the traditional extended family systems that Ghanaians used to rely on have collapsed, leaving children without families to protect them.

“The whole social structure coupled with stark poverty lays a fertile foundation for such brothels to thrive,” he said. Yeboah points to the 25,000 children the Ghana AIDS commission estimates have HIV/AIDS as a sign of the worst effect of the phenomenon on children.

“Because they are children unlike the adults they have little say in determining whether to use protection or not. Their adult clients often dictate the terms. With no protection they contract HIV/AIDS and often die in silence,” Yeboah said.

The Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs in Ghana has launched programmes which focus on “rescuing, rehabilitating and reintegrating” children involved in sex work by caring for them at dedicated centres. Ghana’s police force has recently launched a “war on child prostitution”.

The Deputy Women and Children’s Affairs Minister, Daniel Dugan, acknowledged however that the programme has shortfalls. He said the lack of accommodation to house all the girls plus a lack of personnel makes it difficult to effectively monitor the girls and to stop them returning to working in the sex trade.

Of the 60 underage girls arrested at the Soldier Bar, for example, only 20 are still part of the programme. And while the brothel’s manager is still in custody, its owner is free.

Dugan said a committee has been set up including the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) to provide funding for the fight against child prostitution.

The ministry will use some of the money to fund a nationwide survey to establish the extent of the problem, Dugan said. “We have received reports that brothels are thriving across the country exploiting children for money,” he explained. “We want to understand the nature, extent and dynamics of this problem so we can better deal with it.”

The government also plans to involve non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in introducing child sex workers to vocational training to try to give them alternatives to the sex trade.

“The solution starts with economic empowerment and an intensive educational campaign to get families to be more conscious of their responsibilities to these children,” the academic Yeboah said, while criticizing the authorities for “not doing enough” so far to combat the trade and “lacking a full appreciation of the extent and effect of such exploitation on the children”.

Bright Appiah, Executive Director of the NGO Children’s Rights International in Ghana said civil society has much to offer.

“Some NGO’s are far better equipped than the government-run Social Welfare Department and they can offer better rehabilitation and protection for these girls” he said.

http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/IRIN/3fff654269a13426c03039d2e831dbaa.htm

The endless debate about paid maternity leave in Australia — among OECD countries, only Australia and the US do not have paid leave — has become an embarrassment, with lingering notions that somehow raising children is an entirely private affair. It is predominantly a personal matter, but the argument has been well won that children are a community responsibility, too. How they are raised, and how well, is important for all of us and the evidence is clear that small babies in particular — as well as their mothers — benefit from full-time care at home.

In the modern era, with most mothers working at least part-time, who should pay for women to stay at home in the crucial first weeks? It’s time — it’s beyond time — that Australian women had government-paid maternity leave. It is a question of equity.

As The Sunday Age reports today, only one-third of Australian women have access to paid maternity leave — and they are mostly educated, professional, higher-paid women working in large companies or in the public service. Women in less skilled or less secure work — hospitality workers, for instance — get nothing.

Successive governments have failed to act on it. The Howard government ignored what appeared to be a sound plan to introduce maternity leave, favouring instead the baby bonus that now costs the taxpayer several hundred million dollars a year. Crucially, the baby bonus is paid whether women are at home or in the workforce. The whole idea of maternity leave is to allow a women to stay at home for the first few weeks of her baby’s life. The Rudd Government has put the issue on hold while the Productivity Commission undertakes a review that reports next year. So far, Kevin Rudd has refused to say where he stands. The losers in this are not just the families involved, but our entire society.

To enable women to combine work and motherhood is more than some warm and fuzzy utopian ideal: it makes sense. Pru Goward, architect of a maternity leave scheme so far ignored by both sides of politics, argues elsewhere in these pages that it is not just the “right” thing to do, but the economically and socially rational choice.

First, it is not about who pays — clearly, it should not be a direct cost to employers, but accepted as a national responsibility. Taxpayers who paid for maternity leave would ultimately benefit because they would retain vital members of the workforce and allow them to produce the next generation of Australians at a time when fertility rates are low. It makes sense to subsidise women to have families, rather than to penalise them for what comes naturally. If a generation of working women sacrifice motherhood to preserve jobs and careers, it will cost us all.

Studies show that women who leave infants too early to return to work are more likely to suffer depression and related illnesses, at huge cost to employers. As Goward writes, if the rejection of maternity leave was part of a “war against so-called radical feminism” then it wasn’t feminism that lost, it was our women and children.

http://www.theage.com.au/news/editorial/paid-maternity-leave-overdebated-overcooked-and-overdue/2008/03/22/1205602723109.html

See also:

Maternity leave’s long, difficult labour

Thirty years ago Jan Marsh was the most controversial woman in Australia. Howled down in public forums, accosted at airports, lectured in taxis, Ms Marsh was the face of radical unionism and hardline feminism rolled into one.

Continues at http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/maternity-leaves-long-difficult-labour/2008/03/22/1205602734570.html

Shocking figures reveal between 50 and 90 per cent of people with an intellectual disability will be sexually assaulted – but only a handful of their abusers face court.

The laws are being widened to make it possible to prosecute neighbours, friends and relatives of intellectually disabled people for sexual abuse, Attorney-General John Hatzistergos said.

In NSW, as well as rape laws, there are specific laws making it an offence to sexually abuse a person with an intellectual disability in certain circumstances – including being a carer.

Mr Hatzistergos said the term “cognitively impaired” would replace “intellectually disabled” to bring stroke victims, people suffering from alzheimers and the victims of brain injury under the protection of the law.

They are the latest sweeping reforms to the State’s sexual assault laws following recommendations from prosecutors, police and health workers on the Government’s Sexual Assault Task Force report.

“Taking advantage of a cognitively impaired person for sexual gratification is despicable,” Mr Hatzistergos said.

“With the introduction of these laws we are protecting a broader group of disabled people who are vulnerable to the vile predators who prey on them.”

Studies have revealed that assaults against intellectually disabled people are severe and ongoing because the victims are not taken seriously or are unable to communicate the problem.

Often the abuse remains hidden by residential care homes, the Task Force report said.

Sexual assault expert Julie Blyth said these victims were more vulnerable because their abusers believed they either would not or could not report them.

“You do not think of these people being targets but it is important for people to realise that offenders target vulnerability. It is about power,” said Ms Blyth, of the Northern Sydney Sexual Assault Service.

The penalty for sexually abusing a cognitively impaired person is 10 years for carers and eight years for others. Between 2000 and 2005 only 21 such matters were prosecuted in NSW.

Task force member Anne Cossins welcomed the changes to the law but said it would always be difficult to get convictions because cognitively impaired people could not stand up to cross-examination.

http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,23411844-421,00.html

Participants of a one-day workshop titled “Domestic Violence” called for a review of the laws to control violence against women including the Women Protection Act.

Council of Islamic Ideology organised the event, seeking proposals from civil society and gender issues experts on how to protect women against domestic violence.

The speakers said misinterpretation of religion, wrong cultural norms and illogical social traditions were the main cause for different forms of violence against women and there was a need to change mindset of the people.

They said there were laws on domestic violence including the WPA but they were being ignored. They domestic violence cases should be recorded in detail so that parliamentarians could understand the ratio and intensity of these cases before making any law. They said the WPA should be open for public debate and reviewed in the light of the feedback from women and those working on women issues.

Domestic violence cases and reconciliation: They said police had reservations about implementation of this act as they say that the victims withdrew cases of domestic violence while the investigations were midway.

They said withdrawal of these cases should not be easy and complaints should be scrutinised before start of investigations.

They criticised a clause of the act that allowed women opt not to meet husbands during the reconciliation period, granted by courts in domestic violence cases. They said the disputing parties could not reach a settlement unless they met.

Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Syed Afzal Haider pressed on the importance of Ijtehad (collective thinking), while dealing with women issues. “Many Quranic verses are misinterpreted. Ijtihad is the only way to make out the real meaning of religious scriptures,” he said.

He said change in people’s attitude was required more than amendments in the laws. “Implementation of these laws is not possible until people change their thinking style,” he said. He said experts could only suggest legal amendments while it was the duty of media and civil society to create awareness about them so that they were approved by the parliament. National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) Chairperson Arifa Syeda Zehra said no law could be implemented in its true sense if influential people were not held accountable.

“Public attitude could not be changed through laws. Had laws been enough to bring about a positive change, the present laws would have done so,” she said.

Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan Secretary Faqir Hussain said domestic violence was prevailing all over the world but its intensity differed from place to place.

“Unfortunately, it is largely prevalent in Muslim countries despite the honour and respect promised to women by Islam,” he said.

He said violence against women not only ran against Islam and but also against the United Nations Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Religious scholar Muzafar Mohsin Naqvi said Islam preached peace and harmony, not violence. “Any form of violence affects psychology of children who ultimately get involved in violent activities at some stage,” he said. Naqvi said the life of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon Him) should be the best example for Muslims.

http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2008%5C03%5C21%5Cstory_21-3-2008_pg11_1

Despite their active role played in the political social and economic life of the country, Ethiopian women and their contribution in welfare and bringing about positive change, this has not been acknowledged and paid its due, in the Ethiopian context, a gender activist said on Thursday.

The activist said, the Ethiopian woman has always been an active agent in formal politics and community welfare in Ethiopia but this has not been acknowledged.

She said that for this reason, the role and significance of Ethiopian civil society groups and particularly women’s groups lack the dynamism and vibrance they deserve.

“They should have a clear vision and should be assertive enough to advance their agendas,” Meaza Ashenafi, who is an expert in gender issues said presenting at the forum organized by the Inter Africa.

The forum at the Sheraton Addis was held under the theme : Women in the new millennium.

Study papers on the topic of women in civil society organizations, women and gender equality, women’s role for development in the new millennium, were presented.

“Development concepts require equal share of resources between men and women. However, this has not happened in reality for Ethiopian women are not beneficiary as they have to be,” Tiruwork Tiezazu, Head of Women’s Department at Ministry of Finance and Economy, said presenting her paper.

She said this resulted in women having to live in poverty, worse than men.

“These are the main difficulties in women’s history on the past millennium,” she said.

She noted however that there was much progress in the country in this regard, which if sustained can help women meet the Millennium Development Goals(MDGs).

Mahder Paulos, another presenter at the forum expressed discontent over the list of crimes committed in the country which does not include rape and violence against women.

“Among the seven high crimes listed in our country, rape and women violence are not included,” she pointed out.

“This helps people who rape a baby or a teenage girl or abuse women’s right to go out freely,” Mahder contended.

She said this has in a way contributed to the rise of such cases in the country.

Women drawn from various institutions, students and other participants from regions attended the forum where discussions were held after each presentation.

http://allafrica.com/stories/200803210642.html

£27,594 – £29,728
Rotherham Borough Council Neighbourhood and Adult Services

Based in the centre of Rotherham within the Community Safety Unit, this is a full time post, working 37 hours per week.

The main purpose of the job is to support the work of the Safer Rotherham Partnership and Rotherham MBC by ensuring a co-ordinated strategic response to domestic violence in Rotherham, to project manage the Safer Rotherham Partnership Domestic Violence Strategy, to co-ordinate and administer the Domestic Violence Priority Group and to oversee the delivery of relevant Rotherham wide training on domestic violence.

Although the main responsibilities of the post relate to domestic violence, there is a requirement for the post holder to carry out any other duties and responsibilities commensurate with the grade of the post as may be required, which will include providing support in other areas of crime and disorder when required.

Duties will include: supporting multi-agency work in delivering the crime and disorder priorities identified in the Partnership Plan, leading on work to develop relevant strategies and plans and supporting/advising internal and external customers on domestic violence/community safety issues.

We are looking for someone with excellent communication skills, experience and knowledge of domestic violence issues, partnership working within a community safety environment and of working with a range of statutory, voluntary and community sector agencies and facilitating good relationships.

For an informal discussion, please contact Steve Parry on (01709) 334565.

Closing date: 04/04/08

For an application form please contact Rotherham Connect, quoting your name, address and the reference number:
via telephone (01709) 336001 between 8am and 8pm Monday to Friday
e-mail jobline@rotherham.gov.uk.
Text 07781485111
or alternatively apply online at http://www.rotherham.gov.uk/jobs

The gender pay gap more than trebles when women reach their 30s, according to a new TUC report Closing the Gender Pay Gap, published on the eve of the 2008 TUC Women’s Conference says that adult women in all age groups earn less than men of the same age. The sharpest increase in the gender pay gap occurs when women reach their 30s. The difference between men’s and women’s full-time earnings rises from 3.3 per cent for women aged 22-29 to 11.2 per cent for women aged 30-39.

Several causes are cited for the gender pay gap, including the concentration of women in low-paid jobs such as childcare and cleaning, the undervaluing of women’s skills and the employment penalty for mothers. This ‘motherhood penalty’ partly explains why the gender pay gap increases so rapidly for women in their 30s.

The report also says that women are twice as likely to be poor as men. Over one in four women (27 per cent) are classified as poor, by being in the lowest earning bracket, compared to just 13 per cent of men. The average weekly disposable income for women is £127, £85 less than men.

A lack of quality, well-paid work is cited as one of the main causes of women’s poverty, as nearly half of all part-time jobs are low paid. Women working part-time earn nearly 40 per cent less per hour than men working full-time. With 7.5 million part-time workers, Britain has one of the highest proportions of this type of work in Europe, and more than three-quarters are female.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: ‘We all expect our wages to increase as our careers progress. But women’s wages start to stagnate as early as their 30s and many are paying an unacceptable penalty simply for having children. Despite girls outperforming boys at school and at university, too many employers are still failing to make use of women’s skills. This waste of talent isn’t just hurting their take home pay, it’s harming the UK economy too.

‘When women earn poverty wages, the whole family suffers. If the Government is serious about ending child poverty, it must raise family income by creating better paid, quality part-time work Britain’s 7.5 million part-time workers.’

Minister for Women Harriet Harman said: ‘I just don’t believe women are less committed, less hard-working or less able than men. So they shouldn’t be paid less. The gender pay gap has fallen from 17% to 12% in the last ten years, and there will be some tough measures in the new Equality Bill which will come out later this year, to cut it even further.’

Campaigns officer at the Fawcett Society Kat Banyard said: ‘The gender pay gap is a national scandal. At every level in UK workplaces women are being paid less than men. The paucity of senior flexible roles and long working hours culture shuts women out of the boardroom and forces then into lower paid, lower status jobs when they have children.

‘This Government has an historic opportunity to end pay discrimination with preventative and remedial measures in the Single Equality Act. As a basic first step to rooting out inequality, all companies should be required to conduct pay audits. UK women cannot afford to wait any longer. We need action from Government now.’

Tables:
————————————————————————

Age Full-time pay for men Full-time pay for women Part-time pay for women Full-time gender pay gap Part-time gender pay gap
16-17 £4.75 £5.21 £5.14 -9.7% -8.2%
18-21 £7.28 £6.96 £6.96 4.4% 11.54%
22-29 £11.08 £10.72 £8.49 3.3% 23.4%
30-39 £15.64 £13.89 £10.70 11.2% 31.6%
40-49 £17.35 £13.39 £10.21 22.8% 41.2%
50-59 £16.22 £12.88 £9.89 20.6% 39.0%
60+ £13.36 £11.45 £8.90 14.3% 33.4%

————————————————————————

Bottom quintile Second quintile Third quintile Fourth quintile Top quintile Population (thousands)
Women 27 25 21 16 11 23003
Men 13 14 19 24 30 21524
All adults 20 20 20 20 20 44528

————————————————————————

Closing the Gender Pay Gap:
An update report for TUC Women’s Conference 2008

Introduction

This report uses official data and recent research into the gender pay gap to examine the position of women within the labour market and the causes of the continuing pay inequity they experience.

The report shows that, while the pay gap experienced by women continues to narrow, with the full time pay gap now at 17.2% and the part time pay gap at 35.6%, the underlying causes of the pay gap persist. Undervaluation of women’s work, a persistent employment penalty for mothers, occupational gender segregation, and discriminatory treatment in the workplace continue to hamper efforts to further reduce the pay gap.

The interconnectedness of part-time work, occupational gender segregation and the onset of family responsibilities hits women in the UK particularly hard – they experience a larger pay gap than many other women in Europe. The UK pay gap is a third higher than the EU average.

Unequal pay doesn’t just hurt women – this report also highlights the cost of women’s unequal pay for everyone, with strong links between the gender pay gap and child poverty, skills shortages and a cost to the economy of the under-utilisation of women’s skills in excess of £11bn a year.

The findings of this report emphasise the critical need to tackle the penalties paid by part-time workers and mothers as well as for widespread cultural change to challenge the undervaluation of women’s work.

You can download a full copy of this report at http://www.tuc.org.uk/extras/genderpayreport08.pdf

Comment published by Third Sector Magazine from John Knight, head of policy and campaigns at Leonard Cheshire Disability: jk.thirdsector@googlemail.com

I often write in this column about the real difference that voluntary organisations make to people’s lives. This is certainly true in terms of how the voluntary sector affects the lives of many thousands of women.

Last Saturday marked the 100th anniversary of the first march to celebrate International Women’s Day. Since 1908, millions of women all over the world have been marching and organising against oppression, violence and discrimination on this day.

Where public services stop for women, voluntary services start. The importance of refuges and rape crisis centres cannot be overestimated. The plight of women asylum seekers fleeing violence and rape abroad is far too often unseen – by both the public and the state. The work of organisations to raise the profile of these issues and help women to establish safe havens here is often done against incredible odds.

Other voluntary organisations work abroad to save women’s lives and raise awareness. A good example of this work is Maternity Worldwide, which trains midwives and works with women to improve maternal health services and outcomes in sub-Saharan Africa.

As well as providing these services, women’s voluntary organisations also advocate and campaign to change laws and raise awareness of issues that have traditionally remained in the private sphere – such as rape in marriage, domestic violence and domestic slavery. Advertising campaigns and lobbying on these issues and others – abortion time limits, rape conviction rates, equal pay and even women’s representation in political institutions – are the lifeblood of many of these voluntary organisations.

Women’s voluntary organisations propel women’s issues into the public arena and to the top of the decision-making agenda. They support, advise and protect many thousands of women every day. Yet The Women’s Resource Centre reported last year that only 1.2 per cent of third sector funding goes to women’s organisations. Discrimination or what?

http://www.thirdsector.co.uk/news/Article/789709/comment-praise-womens-organisations/

Liverpool-based Worst Kept Secret has helped thousands of victims of abuse in their homes since it was launched in 2001.

But its current funding package has come to an end and it now needs about £100,000 to keep it going for another year.

Worst Kept Secret’s six employees are now being prepared for the worst by its parent organisation, Local Solutions, which also runs the ECHO’s Bullybusters service.

The helpline is supported by various grant bodies and trusts across the UK.

Because those sources have reached an end, Local Solutions has until the end of April to secure its future.

It submitted applications for council help yesterday.

Steve Taylor-Smith, Local Solutions’ strategy and development manager, said: “The best scenario would be a pot of cash to sustain the project.

“We are pursuing a number of grant-making trusts, but it is a matter of finding the money sooner rather than later, because the deadline is imminent.

“Staff are hopeful the financial issues can be bridged.

“They will not be suddenly told that they are out of a job – we have procedures to keep them informed.”

In its first five years alone, Worst Kept Secret dealt with more than 11,000 calls from domestic violence victims.

One staff member, who would not be named, said: “It is devastating for us on a personal level but it could be the end for such a valuable resource.

“Our service is free and the number does not show up on a landline bill, which is crucial if an abuser is very controlling.

“This would leave a tremendous gap for the victims of abuse. We feel we can really help these people.”

Worst Kept Secret can be contacted in confidence on 0800 028 3398.

http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/liverpool-news/local-news/2008/03/26/cash-crisis-hits-abuse-advice-team-100252-20674835/

In a school in south London, women in headscarves are learning English, childcare skills and citizenship, to smooth their integration into British life.

The courses are encouraged under a new government policy to “empower” Muslim women, ultimately to combat the threat from Islamist violence, a threat made brutally clear when four homegrown suicide bombers killed 52 people in London in 2005.

Triggered by events from racial violence in northern England in 2001 to the London bombings, British policy on ethnic minorities has shifted from a “laissez-faire” approach to encouraging integration or “community cohesion”, said Rick Muir, research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research.

But Shazia Qayum’s story illustrates the obstacles still to be overcome in a country with more than 1.6 million Muslims. Qayum, who lives in the northern city of Derby, says her family kept her away from school for a year at age 15, planning a forced marriage to a Pakistani cousin. She ran away from her family after her marriage: now aged 28, she works with women who are undergoing similar experiences: “In the eyes of my parents, I am dead,” she said. “The surprising thing … is that no one asked the question where I was. No one from education welfare. No one from social services and no one from the police.”

This sort of alienation and isolation is one problem that the “empowerment” scheme could address. The policy’s backers say the main goal is for Britain’s estimated 800,000 Muslim women to become more influential in their communities, which might stem the threat from disaffected young Muslim men.

“Muslim women have a unique role to play in tackling the spread of violent extremism,” Communities Secretary Hazel Blears said as she unveiled the plan, backed by Prime Minister Gordon Brown. “I want to see more done in communities to build the capacity of Muslim women to shape their communities and to engage with disaffected groups.”

It’s a message that resonates with the women at the Bellenden Old School in south London, but the policy has been denounced as patronising and clumsy by some Muslim leaders. “I know I can offer something to this country,” said Ines Meddah, a 26-year-old Algerian lawyer at the London school. “But sometimes I feel like I am in a prison because I struggle to share my know-how.” From a new citizenship test for people seeking to live in Britain to a recent suggestion that young people swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen, the pressure to integrate is mounting — but it faces complex and deep-rooted obstacles.

In a document published in January, Blears highlighted figures showing almost two-thirds of Muslim women in Britain are “economically inactive” — as opposed to about a quarter of all women. Her plan would see tens of millions of pounds spent through local communities to raise their involvement. “We want the government to help those who are educated who want to (achieve) something in this country,” said Meddah, who has lived in London for two years.

But despite visible backing for the scheme from Brown, some Muslim community leaders are alienated by the way it has been presented. “Why is it that anything that has to do with Muslims, has to do with terrorism?” said Reefat Drabu, Chair of the Social and Family Affairs Committee of the Muslim Council of Britain. While in favour of female empowerment, she said linking it with reducing the threat of terrorism was ludicrous. “If they want to combat terrorism, they really need to get out of their denial and realise that they need to look at the policies, as far as foreign policies, policies at home, domestic policies to win the hearts and minds of people,” she said.

At the heart of the issue is the rise in tension between Muslims and other Britons since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, the 2005 London attacks and thwarted car bomb attacks in London and Glasgow last year. The Muslim Public Affairs Committee, which calls itself Britain’s largest Muslim civil liberties group, said Blears’ initiative was missing the larger point — discrimination. “What Blears seems to fail to recognise is that women are unequivocally recognised by Islam as the moral authority in their homes,” the organisation commented on its Web site. “They do not need condescending advice on how they can better fulfil their roles in this sphere.”

Another Muslim scholar said the scheme was ill-conceived. “What does the government mean to say when they want to empower Muslim women? Against whom or what? Their men and their ‘traditions’, of course,” said Professor Werner Menski, chair of the Centre for Ethnic Minority Studies at SOAS. “All this talk about wanting to listen will throw some money at a problem that is far bigger than just women’s empowerment.”

The women at the London school — from countries as culturally diverse as Somalia, Iran, Algeria and Syria — urged against generalising Muslim experiences in Britain and in so doing propagating common prejudices. “One must not put everyone in the same basket,” Meddah said. “Here there are pharmacists, teachers, engineers, we are not extremists. We just want to have a good life, that’s all. We want to live well in this country.”

In pockets of some Asian communities in Britain, the notion of “empowering” women is directly opposed to imported rural traditions restricting their roles. In extreme cases, women’s lives may be at risk if they try to break the mould. A British government-funded study by consultant Nazia Khanum in early March found that in one town alone — Luton, where the largest ethnic minority is Pakistani — there were more than 300 approaches a year to external bodies for advice of some sort on forced marriage. In Luton, as in other towns and cities in northern England, the Asian community is largely segregated from the white, and concerns are mounting over the number of girls whose parents are removing them from education in order to marry them off. Britain’s Forced Marriage Unit receives more than 5,000 inquiries a year and last year intervened in 400 cases, many of them people forced into marriage with someone from overseas.

“Since it is mostly men who are perpetrators of forced marriages and domestic violence, the education of men is essential as a preventative measure,” Khanum’s report said.

For a video report on forced marriages in Britain, double-click on: http://www.reuters.com/news/video?videoId=78882&videoChannel=1

http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L19739136.htm

British courts are overturning decisions taken by immigration officers that would have protected men and women from being forced into marriage.

The director of UK Visas said that appeals to the courts were often successful because people sponsoring foreigners to enter Britain were too frightened to admit that the applicants were being forced into marriage. Mark Sedwill said that 452 visas for Pakistani applicants were refused last year on the ground of family abuse, of which the majority were because of fears of forced marriage. He said that 116 cases were taken to appeal and 37 were successful.

Victims of forced marriage may even have been put in the position of giving evidence to the immigration tribunal in Britain to back their spouses’ appeals, Mr Sedwill admitted. “This is the real tragedy of this situation, that sponsors are forced into this position,” he told the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into domestic violence yesterday.

The only right of appeal against the immigration tribunal’s decision is on a point of law.

Mr Sedwill said that sponsors of spouses or fiancées were often unwilling to make a public statement about the nature of the family abuse, including forced marriage, because they were frightened of the family reaction. He said that, of the 452 refusals, 252 involved British citizens who had reluctantly been required to sponsor an applicant from Pakistan and 86 were vulnerable adults, including people who were severely disabled.

One of the cases involved a disabled man in his early thirties whose parents could no longer look after him, so they attempted to marry him to a girl from the Indian sub-continent, he said.

In addition, there were 30 reluctant sponsors of Bangladeshi visa applications and 12 of Indian applications.

Overall 5,500 spousal settlement applications from the Indian sub-continent were refused last year, he said. “Within that 5,500 there are quite a number of cases where there has been some sort of compulsion, where the couple have not met or are under 18,” Mr Sedwill told MPs.

The committee was also told that people who sponsored an applicant for a visa were not routinely interviewed by officials, despite growing concern within the Government about the issue of forced marriage.

Applicants are interviewed formally and have to answer between 50 and 100 questions.

Mr Sedwill said: “They [sponsors] don’t necessarily go through a formal process of interview. In all of those cases where a sponsor has let us know that forced marriage is an issue, the sponsor will be interviewed either by telephone or in person.

“It’s not an immigration interview, but they will be interviewed by consular staff or by the forced marriage unit in the UK in order to gather the information that allows us to make a decision.”

Meg Munn, a junior Foreign Office Minister, said that one reason why sponsors were not interviewed was because of the “sheer volume” of the situation. A total of 47,000 spouses entered Britain on settlement visas last year, including 17,000 from the Indian sub-continent.

Bob Russell, Liberal Democrat MP for Colchester, accused the Government of complacency. “I do not understand why the sponsor and the applicant cannot be interviewed to find out if the marriage is genuine or not,” he said.

Forced Marriage Unit’s phone number, to be called if you are worried that you or someone you know may be forced into marriage: 0207008 0151

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article3621619.ece

Oldham Council has confirmed that 36 Asian pupils have seemingly vanished from school registers, raising fears that some of them may have become victims of forced marriages.

Oldham is one of 15 local authorities considered a ‘high-risk zone’ for the practice and was ordered to provide information to the Government on children missing from school registers as part of an investigation into forced marriages and domestic violence in the UK.

The Oldham figure includes primary school children and secondary school pupils, which would suggest it would be wrong to conclude that all had fallen victim of the controversial practice.

“The figure needs to be considered extremely carefully as it is not possible to determine how many of the missing pupils, if any of them at all, have been forced into marriages,” said a council spokesman. “In many instances pupils will be missing from registers because of extended holidays abroad, and so on.”

A recent study claims the number of women who have become victims of forced marriages in the UK has been drastically under-estimated and could be as high as 4,000.

Women who become victims often have no idea who their husbands will be and have no rights once they are married.

Oldham Council is organising a conference on forced marriage in July and has been praised for its pro-active approach.

“We would emphasise that Oldham has a growing reputation for its protection of children and – through the Local Safeguarding Children Board – has a forced marriage protocol within existing procedures,” said the council spokesman.

Kay Knox, an Oldham councillor for 21 years who has spent the past eight years specialising in issues affecting women of all backgrounds, has condemned the practice of forced marriage.

“I am not against arranged marriages but I am very much against forced marriages,” she said. “In this society women have basic freedoms that a forced marriage can take away. They are entitled to work on an equal footing to men.”

She added: “You only have to look at the example of Police Superintendant Caroline Ball to see what women in Oldham are capable of. The mental torment women can experience when they are forced to give up these rights is often damaging to family life.

“I welcome both the Government’s and the council’s positive stance and hope the practice becomes less prevalent.”

http://www.oldhamadvertiser.co.uk/news/s/1042558_borough_a_high_risk_for_forced_marriages