From youngest Asian female black belt karate Instructor to fighting child abuse – Aneeta Prem, founded Freedom Charity in 2009 to help with eradicating forced marriage, FGM and all forms of dishonour abuse.
Aneeta was born a Cockney within the sound of Bow Bells to parents from Himachal Pradesh in Northern India. Her family were focused on the value of education for all and in 2000 Aneeta worked with her father to design and build Republic College in Kote, Himachal Pradesh providing further education for girls in a safe, single-sex environment.
With an early career working on regeneration and employment projects in East London, Aneeta became a JP in 2002 and continues to work as a magistrate chairing youth, family and adult courts. As Chair of the London Youth Panel (Magistrates) she has worked with the Department of Justice to develop effective safeguarding procedures for young people at risk, including the homeless and young people coming out of care.
Recognition and a breakthrough
Aneeta received the Metropolitan Police Commissioner’s Commendation for the work she did, leading the South-East Asia Tsunami Police Rescue effort in December 2004 and January 2005. She was the MPA lead member for forced marriages and dishonour violence. She worked closely with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and many victims, survivors and community groups. She was also assigned the lead on Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist issues. Aneeta also lead on the MPA estate and property issues, encompassing over 600 operational buildings used by almost 50,000 police officers and staff, with a property budget of £1.3 billion.
Establishing the Freedom Charity
Alongside these roles Aneeta established and ran seven karate clubs in East London. During this time she became very aware of forced marriage, as several of her students failed to return after the summer break. As she talked to their friends, it became clear that these young girls had been taken abroad or forcibly married in the UK. At the same time, through her personal work with homeless people in East London, she would support women who had been trafficked, alerting the police and helping to rescue them. This motivated and inspired her to found Freedom Charity, alongside Lord Toby Harris.
The aims are to bring about laws to make forced marriage a crime, to rescue potential victims and to educate children and professionals so that they would become fully aware of the signs, risk factors and available help. Aneeta worked closely with the Government and legislation was passed by Parliament under Theresa May in 2014. Finally, forced marriage had become a criminal offence.
Freedom Charity have developed a groundbreaking app, to signpost help and give information to frontline keyworkers such as the police. Freedom supports the girls themselves to move forward after rescue. Often they have only the clothes on their back and the charity helps them to change identity where necessary. There is often a bounty on their head and they are in fear of their lives. The charity works hard so they have a chance to rebuild their lives often in very difficult surroundings.
Work in schools
Aneeta continues to lead Freedom’s work in education and is invited into schools across the country to deliver lessons and workshops. Through these sessions, Aneeta both raises awareness of these issues. These are now mandatory subjects in the PSHE curriculum, and help young people build their own support networks so they are able to spot the signs if their friends are at risk. The schools have become communities of support, able to signpost sources of help for victims and potential victims. Boys and girls are engaging with the programme, standing at the end of these assemblies to say “Not in my name.”
Aneeta has developed PSHE-accredited lesson plans and has written two novels “But It’s Not Fair” (around Forced Marriage) and Cut Flowers (around FGM). Both novels are appropriate for children aged 8+ and over 60,000 copies have been donated to schools and libraries across the country. The novels have been rated Outstanding by Ofsted and Aneeta was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters by Winchester University.
The eradication of dishonour violence is Aneeta’s passion. She regularly appears in the media to highlight what is happening here in the UK to young people from every background. Virginity testing and hymenoplasty are top priorities too. There has been a frightening rise in the number of young women being forced to undergo this procedure. Girls are terrified and many calls coming into Freedom’s helpline are about the test and the outcome. Again, Aneeta has been campaigning at government level to ensure its criminalisation.
As Freedom’s founder and ‘Chief Volunteer’ Aneeta has developed and steered the organisation, but her work does not end there. She is also Chief Executive of the Trigeminal Neuralgia Association (TNA). The TNA supports those suffering with the excruciatingly painful condition of TN and their carers. As a sufferer herself, Aneeta leads this national organisation, liaising with global research organisations, ensuring that victims and their carers have access to information, and support.
Through her work with Aneeta’s work with Freedom Charity focuses on engaging and empowering young people to understand their communities, and to protect themselves and their vulnerable peers with dignity and strength aiming to eradicate Dishonour Abuse within a generation.
Aneeta’s own passion is for Shar-peis and she lives with her Shar-Pei puppy, India Prem.
To help Aneeta and Freedom Educate and Eradicate please follow Freedom Charity on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. If you would like to see more of our work and/or donate please head to our website https://www.freedomcharity.org.uk/donate/