How I escaped my forced marriage
Anna* escaped from her family after they tried to force her into a marriage. She tells The Mix her harrowing story.
I’m from a Pakistani background where forced marriages are common. When I was young, I saw my sisters and brother being forced into marriages. I’ve got seven sisters and three of them got married at the same time. In Pakistan, when one of my sisters refused to marry, I saw my Dad put an axe to my sister’s throat. They had to go through with the marriages and today none of them has worked out. One of my sisters was raped by her husband resulting in her becoming pregnant with her first child. My parents didn’t class that as rape because in Pakistani cultural law, the husband is seen to have a right over a woman. She’s now divorcing him and trying to rebuild her life, which has led to my parents disowning her.
Pressure to marry
I first had a feeling I’d be forced into marriage when my Mum started telling me to cook and clean, as that’s what she’d made my sisters do shortly before they married. When I was 15, my Mum said: “We’re going to Pakistan and I want you to get married.” I tried to get them to change their minds but they told me I had to go. My Dad threatened me by saying “If you run away, we’re going to kill you.” I was so confused and angry about why my parents would want to do this. The most important decision you’ll ever make in your life is to marry someone and I was going to get married to someone I had never met. All I knew about this man was that he was 21. If my parents had wanted to arrange my marriage in the future, I wouldn’t have minded. I’d have wanted to meet him and get to know him of course, but not at this age, not at 15, not when I was still at school.
One day I discovered tickets under the sofa for me and my parents to go to Pakistan that weekend. My passport was there as well and it was then I knew I had to escape. After seeing the tickets, I told my best mate, but she said If she were in my shoes she’d get married because it would mean she would be shaming her parents. I told my teacher at school and she was a bit shocked but she knew what to do straight away. She told me about Karma Nirvana, an organisation which provides support and refuge for men and women in danger of being forced into marriage. Social services and the police said it wasn’t safe for me to live in Derby anymore, so I moved away and lived in a safe house. I moved from place to place for about three months. That’s when I was really in need of support. I’m still living in a refuge now.
When I first got in contact with Karma Nirvana, I received a lot of support over the phone. I couldn’t go a day without speaking to my key worker. It was a lonely and depressing time. I missed my sisters and nieces and nephews. It was always busy and all of a sudden, I was on my own. I used to have nightmares about Mum and Dad. I self harmed a lot and tried to commit suicide six times. It was horrible. In the refuge, there were people I could talk to, but they weren’t Asian and couldn’t understand my situation.
My key worker at Karma Nirvana supported me in such a way though that I used to call her ‘bhaji’, which means ‘older sister’. She always gave me the feeling that she was there for me.
My advice to others
If you are in this situation you have two choices. You can stay at home and try and work things out with your parents by telling them you don’t want to get married. If your parents are adamant however, you can either go through with the marriage, or you can contact an organisation where there’s a refuge provision and support. Obviously, it’s going to be lonely but you’ll find people who will love and care about you. When I was in that situation, I thought no one cared about me, but there are people out there and friends become your family. I have to live with the fact that I wake up in the morning and realise that I haven’t got my family, but I know I made the right choice. If anyone is thinking about leaving home, they should know there are points when you’re going to feel really down, but there are people out there who can really help you.
*Names have been changed
Interviewed by Marcella Carnevale
Updated on 29-Sep-2015
Photo posed by model and by Shutterstock
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