Asma was only 10 when her parents, who had migrated to Britain from Pakistan, began grooming her for marriage.
Before long, learning to cook, clean and be a good wife were more important than her homework and the rest of her education.
“I was living in … England but it felt like I was living in Pakistan,” Asma said on Tuesday, recalling how she was forbidden to ride a bicyle, go to the cinema or wear Western clothes for fear of bringing dishonour to her family.
Asma, who avoided an arranged marriage and is now in her thirties, was one of several women who shared their stories at the launch of the first national memorial day for victims of “honour” crimes.
Thousands of young women and girls in Britain face abuse every year for breaking family codes of “honour”, often by asserting their independence – for example, by refusing an arranged marriage or embracing Western freedoms, activists say.
Between 2010 and 2014, more than 11,700 cases of “honour”-based violence were reported to the police, according to Freedom of Information data obtained by the London-based Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO).
Often inflicted by members of the victim’s family or community, this violence ranges from physical abuse and forced marriage to extreme sexual control, including female genital mutilation, and in the worst cases, murder.
Globally, it is estimated that 5,000 women are murdered every year in “honour” killings, though the real number is thought to be far higher, and many victims simply disappear, according to Karma Nirvana, which helps survivors of forced marriage and “honour” violence.
“People are still being threatened and abused by their families for failing to fall in line with their beliefs,” Karma Nirvana founder Jasvinder Sanghera said in a statement.
“The biggest complaint I hear from victims is the lack of support and knowledge from professionals … Training for professionals is critical.”
Karma Nirvana, which led the campaign to commemorate victims of “honour” violence, said July 14 was chosen because it is the birthday of Shafilea Ahmed, a 17-year-old schoolgirl who was murdered by her parents in front of her siblings in 2003.
It was almost a decade before Ahmed’s father, who strangled her, and Ahmed’s mother, who put a plastic bag in her mouth, were brought to justice.
Karen Bradley, the government minister for preventing abuse and exploitation, said it was a key government priority to end such crimes.
“There is no honour in forcing a girl to marry against her will, to use violence and abuse to deny a woman the right to choose the clothes she wears, the right to pursue the career she wants, the right to have the friends she wants,” Bradley said.
(Thomson Reuters Foundation)