How I escaped my forced marriage

Whilst less common in the UK, forced marriages still occur all over the world. We want to be very clear - marriage is a CHOICE not something you should be coerced into. Anna* escaped from her family after they tried to force her into a marriage. She tells The Mix her harrowing forced marriage story.

True Stories

A young woman is staring into the distance. She is thinking about forced marriages.

T/W: Discussion of self-harm and suicide

What is forced marriage?

Before we hand the metaphorical mic over to Anna, we should probably just clarify what a forced marriage is for context. 

Forced marriage is when children are obligated to marry someone they have no relationship with. This is usually the result of the religious or cultural beliefs held by the victim’s family members. This means that victims of forced marriage have no opportunity to consent to the marriage. 

What’s more, they typically lack the capacity to consent because they’re under the age of 18. This is made worse when we consider that forced marriages are often linked to domestic violence and violence against women and girls in particular. Thankfully, forced marriage in the UK is a criminal offence and can result in up to 7 years in prison. 

Here’s Anna’s story.

Growing up

I’m from a Pakistani background where, sadly, forced marriages are common. I grew up with my sisters and brother having their own forced marriage stories. In fact, out of my seven sisters, three got married at the same time. And when one of my sisters refused to marry, my Dad put an axe to my sister’s throat. Essentially, they had no choice but to go through with the marriages. Unsurprisingly, today none of them have worked out. 

One of my sisters was actually raped by her husband resulting in her having her first child. Of course, my parents didn’t class that as rape. See, in Pakistani cultural law, the husband is seen to have a right over a woman. No matter what she wants. Thankfully, she’s now divorcing him and trying to rebuild her life. The only sad part is that this choice has led to my parents disowning her.

Pressure to marry

I first got the impression that I’d be forced to marry when my Mum started teaching me to cook and clean. After all, that’s what she’d made my sisters do shortly before they got married. Eventually, when I was 15, my Mum said: “We’re going to Pakistan and you’re going to come back with a husband.” I tried to get them to change their minds but they were adamant

My Dad even threatened me by saying “If you run away, we’re going to kill you.” I was genuinely so confused and angry about why my parents were saying and doing all these things. Marriage is one of the most important decisions of your entire life. And there I was getting that choice taken from me. 

Escaping my forced marriage

One day I discovered tickets under the sofa for us to go to Pakistan that weekend. My passport was there as well. Without even thinking,I knew I had to escape. After seeing the tickets, I told my best mate. Unfortunately, she said that if she were in my shoes she’d get married. Her reason? Because if she didn’t she would be shaming her parents. Once I knew that she wouldn’t support me, I told my teacher at school.

At first, she was a bit shocked but she knew what to do straight away. Clearly she’d heard forced marriage stories before. She told me about Karma Nirvana, an organisation which provides support and refuge for men and women in danger of being forced into marriage. Eventually, the local authorities got involved. 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. After that, I moved from place to place for about three months. That’s when I really needed support and stability. I’m actually still living in a refuge now.

Getting support

When I first got in contact with Karma Nirvana, I received a lot of support over the phone. I couldn’t even go a day without speaking to my key worker. Despite being safe, it was still a lonely and depressing time. I missed my sisters and nieces and nephews. It was always busy at home and all of a sudden, I was on my own. 

But I know that I made the right choice. I used to have nightmares about Mum and Dad. I self harmed a lot and even tried to commit suicide six times. It was horrible. 

Of course in the refuge, there were people I could talk to. But they weren’t Asian and couldn’t understand my situation. Nonetheless, my key worker at Karma Nirvana practically became my family. I even used to call her ‘bhaji’, which means ‘older sister’. 

My advice to victims of forced marriage

If you’re in this situation you have two choices. You can stay at home and try to work things out with your parents. This would require you telling them you don’t want to get married. When your parents are adamant on their decision is when the choice comes in. You can either go through with the marriage, or you can contact an organisation where there’s a refuge provision and support. The second option is gonna be lonely but you’ll eventually find people who’ll love and care about you. 

I thought no one cared about me. That just wasn’t true. There are people out there and friends become your family. I have to live with the fact that I haven’t got my biological family in my life. But every time that gets me down, I think about the reason why. If anyone is thinking about leaving home, they should know that it’s a struggle, but you’re never alone in this world.

*Names have been changed

Interviewed by Marcella Carnevale

Final message from The Mix

Here’s some resources for support in cases of forced marriage:

 

Next Steps

  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 21-Jun-2022