Although offering a dowry – a centuries-old custom practiced across the world, involving a woman’s family paying her new husband’s family – has been outlawed in many countries, the practice remains legal in Britain.
Hundreds of women in Britain are being raped, burnt, scalped, imprisoned, or otherwise abused in their homes simply because their families have not paid enough money when they get married, however, not a single police force in the country keeps data on these instances of dowry violence.
Women ‘suffer in silence’ for years at a time, and sometimes with grave consequences.
The dowry demand is very common in South East Asian countries such as Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, the Middle East, parts of Africa, and in some areas of Eastern Europe.
However, while the practice is outlawed in many countries, it remains legal in the UK, and campaigners are now calling on the government to take the matter more seriously, especially as it is described as involving ‘widespread and underground abuse of thousands of women’ in Britain. Charities working with women in the country have recorded hundreds of cases of dowry violence in the past year alone, stating that it is only the “tip of the iceberg”.
Cases involve men marrying women purely to pay off their debts, such as money owed due to gambling and business.
Shanthona Women’s Group in Luton, a charity organisation that helps victims of domestic abuse, stated that they have seen many victims of ‘dowry’ violence but say that the “authorities just do not understand the issue”.
During an interview with one of the women affected, I found out that “‘the road’ for immigrant women is far ‘rougher’,” and that authorities often ignore and fail high-risk victims of dowry violence.
“I came to the UK in the hope that I can escape my husband’s dowry demand and threat to kill, for failing to pay the price of dowry,” says Akther, whose name has been changed for legal reasons. Akhter is an asylum seeker, who fled Bangladesh in order to escape being killed by her husband and his family eight years ago. Her husband demanded a motorbike as a ‘dowry’ but her elderly parents could not afford it.
According to Akhter, she ‘hangs’ on ‘death row’: if she is sent back to Bangladesh, she will be killed. She was beaten and hospitalised with horrific injuries simply because her parents were not fulfilling the dowry demand, that was until her parents pleaded with the local police in desperation to free their daughter from the abuse. However, even that came at a price for the police to take appropriate action as no case is looked at without bribes being paid to them.
Her husband was determined to have his ‘dowry’ from his new bride or he would kill her.
Akther’s tears run down her face in sadness as she tells me her story, further going on to say, “I had a death threat on me for this motorbike, until with the aid of relatives I escaped to the UK as they said I would be safe here”.
However, even in the UK, Akther was very shocked and scared to receive a text from her husband saying, “don’t think you won’t come back to Bangladesh, I’m waiting for you with your burial clothes”. She reported the incident to Luton Police to investigate the matter with the aid of a relative, because she was scared that her husband had friends and family in the UK and that her life could be in danger.
However, Akhter says, “Bedfordshire Police ignored my case. Because I was an immigrant, they refused to take the evidence of the death threat that I handed to them, yet they told my solicitors that I did not produce any evidence. In their opinion, I was only doing this to support my asylum claim. It’s appalling how someone like a police officer could lie and say this.” Akhter looks fearful and distressed, before further adding, “I am an immigrant woman, why should they care?”
Akhter is awaiting for news on her asylum application, but for now she lives in fear, though she hopes to be free from this ‘dowry’ claim soon.
Another recent case in Luton involved a woman who was made to sleep on the floor because her husband said she was not worth enough to sleep on a £1200 bed, which her family had paid for. He also demanded that her family pay more money for him to buy a new car, as an immigrant woman dowry demand, or ‘ransom’, is more.
However, the police did not progress as in their opinion there was no ‘significant’ evidence. A lot of the time, significant evidence means ‘blood and bruises’, the ‘near death experience’, or even ‘death’, and they’ll need proof of one of these before they take any action. This woman was then beaten and driven out of her home by her husband and his family, as a result of reporting the issues to the police. Police failures to these incidents seem to be very common.
As a report by the Independent states, immigrant women are the most vulnerable in terms of the ‘gun of dowry’ being held to their heads, and more money is often extracted from their families until they get permanent status. As a result of the failures by the authorities, many victims of dowry violence ‘suffer in silence’ – not just immigrant women. This is seen as a better ‘option’ than to be put in ‘more danger’ by reporting to the authorities, a common phrase of victims.
Women can be on the receiving end of horrifying abuse if the husband and his family do not receive enough money in exchange for marrying them. These mentioned here are only a few of the many dowry violence cases happening in this country, which still allows this to be practiced on its soil.
According to a charity advisor, victims are being failed because the authorities think that this so-called ‘dowry’ issue is a cultural practice brought into the UK, but the advisor says “it is useful to remind ourselves that even if the practice is a cultural or religious practice, the violence of this nature is a crime, happening in Britain. A crime is a crime, which needs to be dealt with accordingly by the law of the land rather than to allow the practice to continue on British soil.”