Nordic angle on forced marriage and honour crime

Nordic co-operation to provide refuges for the victims of forced marriage and honour crimes is absolutely necessary, it emerged from a conference in Oslo, 4-5 December. It is also crucial that the Nordic countries discuss mutual experiences of the two phenomena.

Some victims are locked up after school, others are not allowed to take part in PE classes at school, many are exposed to regular physical and mental violence perpetrated by their closest relatives as part of their upbringing. In other words, many different fates await the victims of honour crimes and forced marriage. A number of honour killings of young women in the Nordic Region in recent years has focused attention on the provision of care for the victims of forced marriage and honour crime.

Many young women and men in the Nordic Region flee from the family to avoid honour-related violence or forced marriage. Their needs are diverse and the social services must be tailored to meet the needs of the individual. It is important that the Nordic countries discuss their experiences and forge partnerships in this area. The housing options and support available to victims were presented at the conference held under the auspices of the Norwegian Ministry of Children and Equality and the Nordic Council of Ministers.

"Nordic partnership is absolutely necessary as far as providing refuges for people subjected to forced marriage and honour-related violence is concerned," Lasse Johansson, who was representing Västra Götaland County Council in Sweden, told the first day of the conference.

"In the most extreme cases, it is not always enough for people to fleeing from their own family to move to a another part of the country to ensure their safety. Sometimes they have to move abroad in order to lead something approaching a normal life, and study and/or work, if armed family members are on their trail. In cases like this, cross-border co-operation is important in order to provide people who flee forced marriage and honour crimes with a decent quality of life," he added.

Housing collectives and crisis centres exist in all of the Nordic countries, e.g. Bokollektivet in Norway, Gryning vård in Sweden and Kastaniehuset in Denmark. Although Swedish refuges are open to Norwegian residents, the social work departments in Norway that help young people over 18 years old are unwilling to pay the price for a place in the neighbouring country. As a result, there is very little mobility between Sweden and Norway for victims. On the other hand, the organisation Skeiv Verden is able to reveal that several gay Danes have fled to Norway for fear of family reprisals as a result of their sexual orientation.

Gerd Fleischer, head of Norwegian SEIF (Self-help for Immigrants and Refugees) which helps and protects the victims of the most extreme cases of forced marriage and honour crime, thinks that very few victims need to move to another country. SEIF has existed since the 1990s, and so far nobody it has helped has been found again by their family.

Experiences vary greatly when it comes to whether victims opt to remain in protected housing or quickly move back to their families. The evidence suggests that Denmark has something to learn from Sweden and Norway. The Danish Kastaniehuset informed the conference that some 50% of the women who seek help there move back to their families and problems relatively quickly. The Norwegians and Swedes informed the conference that very few women return to their families and problems.

The conference is a part of the Norwegian Minister of Children and Family Affairs' action plan against forced marriage.

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