Edinburgh social entrepreneur launches support to help professionals protect people at risk of forced marriage

05/09/2023
Nyla Khan, forced marriage survivor and founder of Universal Truth.

AN Edinburgh social entrepreneur has launched a service to break down the barriers professional practitioners face when safeguarding those at risk of forced marriage and honour-based violence.

Forced marriage survivor, Nyla Khan, set up community interest company Universal Truth three years ago and has helped hundreds of ethnic minority women recover and rebuild their lives after forced marriage. 

Now, based on her own experience, Nyla has developed a programme called Diplomatic Dialogue to educate and support any organisation wishing to increase their awareness and knowledge on forced marriage.

It gives child protection services, children and adult social care workers, health and education professionals, and police officers the chance to improve their understanding on their role in enforcing laws to protect people from this and other illegal cultural practices.

Nyla said: “Every year UK government statistics show the illegal practice of forced marriage remains a major concern. This year the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) confirmed it gave advice and support for 302 cases related to a possible forced marriage during 2022. However, we must remember forced marriage is a hidden crime and these figures do not reflect the full scale of the abuse.”

Diplomatic Dialogue specifically addresses racial anxiety, which is when professionals are reluctant to challenge what they see to be cultural practices like forced marriage. This is because they fear being labelled racist, culturally insensitive, or that they’ll be met with distrust or hostility.

Nyla said: “Excessive cultural sensitivity is a key reason for the low conviction rates when it comes to forced marriage. Equally, those affected by forced marriage are often reluctant to approach the police and seek criminal justice due to fear of reprisals, especially being ostracised by their community.

“Breaking down these cultural barriers by resolving race anxiety will help reduce the serious failures when it comes to convicting those guilty of forcing people into marriage while securing the safety and long-term support for survivors.”

Diplomatic Dialogue is delivered through workshops. It encourages keeping an open mind about the impact on attitudes and stereotypes, and challenges assumptions around bias and race in a controlled, trusted space. 

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