Monday, January 25, 2010

Asian mums losing 'honour babies'

Asian mums losing 'honour babies'

By Ushma Mistry
BBC Asian Network

Some single British Asian women are being forced by their families to give up their children as so-called "honour babies", according to a charity which wants action to uncover the scale of the problem.

Saima was just 17 when she fell pregnant. But, instead of feeling happy about becoming a mum, she knew her world was about to fall apart.

Although she longed to keep her baby, she was aware her strict Pakistani parents would never allow it because she was not married.

She declined her GP's option of an abortion and hid her pregnancy from her parents until a few weeks before she was due to give birth.

"As soon as my parents found out I was pregnant they kept me hidden in the house," she said.

"I wasn't allowed out until I gave birth to my son. They immediately adopted him as their own and a few days later I was sent to Pakistan where my dad had arranged my marriage.

"I wasn't allowed to return to the UK until I fell pregnant with my husband's child.

"My husband and I lived quite close to my parents so I had to watch them bring up my son and pretend he was my brother. My marriage didn't really work out and I was very unhappy."

“ In some cases, after a baby is born, what families will do is fly in an auntie and to the community this is that woman's child ”
Jasvinder Sanghera Karma Nirvana
Saima's name has been changed to protect her identity but the situation is all too real for her and many more young Asian women.

A charity has told BBC Asian Network it fears a growing problem of single women being forced to give up their babies because of "honour".

"It is a deeply hidden issue but a very relevant one that is kept underground," says Jasvinder Sanghera, who founded the charity Karma Nirvana to help victims of forced marriages and honour-based crimes.

She said: "The term 'honour baby' is used because the baby is said to have brought dishonour on that family.

"The cases could be in their hundreds, because we have no idea how many there are."

Lack of care

Most of the cases involve girls from south Asian backgrounds who have fallen pregnant out of wedlock or by a boyfriend from a different background.

Their parents force them to put their babies up for adoption or hand them over to other family members to prevent shame.

Some of these girls go to great lengths to conceal the pregnancies from their parents because they know they will never be accepted.

Ms Sanghera says her honour network helpline has received a number of calls similar to Saima's story.

She added: "In these cases, the families take it upon themselves to hide them from the world and refuse them any medical attention so they're not allowed any maternity care that other pregnant women get.

"I've seen cases where girls have had to wear tight clothing to hide the fact they are pregnant so nobody in the community finds out.

"In some cases, after a baby is born, what families will do is fly in an auntie from India, Pakistan or Bangladesh, and to the community this is that woman's child."


Dr Julie Selwyn is an adoption and fostering expert at the Hadley Centre in Bristol.

She said she first came across "honour babies" when she was carrying out her research into reasons children were put up for adoption.

"The reason children come into care is recorded and usually the main reason is abuse or neglect. There is no category called family honour," explained Dr Selwyn.

"In our sample of around 50 Asian children, half of them were there because of that reason."

Dr Selwyn's sample was taken from areas in London, the Midlands and the north of England.

All of the children went on to be adopted, but she says it is very difficult to know just how many cases actually exist in the UK.

There are now calls for cases of so-called honour babies to be recorded in the same way as forced marriages and domestic violence in a bid to gauge the scale of the problem.

"Once upon a time we had no statistics on forced marriages. When we started to engage on the issue, speak out about it, develop helplines and raise awareness then people started to report it.

"Now, thankfully, we have statistics on forced marriages - the same needs to happen with 'honour babies'."

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