13-year-old British girl is saved from forced marriage to her cousin in Pakistan

Thursday, February 1, 2024
 – A 13-year-old British schoolgirl facing a forced marriage to her cousin in Pakistan has been rescued.

The wedding of the child had been arranged secretly by her father, but was it halted at the 11th hour before she was flown back to the UK last weekend.

The girl's plight emerged when her mother sent a text message begging for help from a neighbour back in England.

The girl's 40-year-old mother told the Mail yesterday: 'I messaged my neighbour in alarm because my child was about to be married to a grown man on the orders of her father.

'We went to Pakistan last August on a family holiday. When we got there, I found out my husband had tricked us both.

'He abandoned us, left us with his relatives and returned to England. His family took over our lives and his sister said that my daughter was to be married to a 19-year-old cousin, even though she is a child. I was desperate to save her. My violent husband had destroyed my mobile phone with a hammer. He gave me no money when he left us and gave our passports to his family.'

The mother made her desperate plea for help late in October.

The neighbour she contacted belonged to a women's anti-abuse charity, Jeena International, which sounded the alarm to British police, social workers, and the Government's Forced Marriage Unit.

Officials at the British Embassy in Pakistan were called and, after several weeks, persuaded the 52-year-old father's family to return the passports.

Lawyers in England were brought in to advise the mother, and in December a London court ruled she and her child must be returned to Britain.

A court order stating that the girl was in danger of forced marriage was issued to Interpol, which alerted airports in case the child was spirited out of Pakistan by her father's relatives.

'In Pakistan, she did not go to school for five months,' says the girl's mother, who cannot be named to protect her daughter's identity.

'She was kept inside, and I think she overheard what was being planned for her. I believe she was frightened. She has told me that never wants to see her father again.

'My daughter, who is intelligent, good at schoolwork and has lots of friends in England, was excited to go on holiday to Pakistan. Instead, she was nearly married off to an adult in a country she hardly knew.

'The cousin was my husband's sister's son. In Pakistan, although child marriages still happen, the legal age for a girl to wed is 16. She only knows a British way of life.'

The mother and daughter have returned home to an empty house because the father sold all their furniture over Christmas.

He has told the British authorities he plans to leave the UK and remain in Pakistan, says the mother, who has been left penniless.

'I cannot contemplate a divorce because our community disapproves of it,' said the mother.

She and her husband underwent an arranged marriage in Pakistan in 2007 with 400 guests. It was organised within a week when he was visiting from the UK. 'I never met him until the wedding. I knew he lived in England, but I had never been there,' says the mother, a science and maths graduate who speaks good English. 'But I was by then 25 and pleased to marry. I was determined to make it work out for us.

'I found out very soon he was a controlling character, a narcissist. He slapped me in the face once or twice.'

For the first six years of the marriage, the man left his new wife in Pakistan where she lived with his parents. 'It was cooking and cleaning all the time. My mother-in-law told me what to do,' she said.

'At first, they seemed pleased with me, but soon I became like a slave. My husband visited once or twice a year from England where he worked as a factory official. I was very unhappy about this.'

Eventually, she persuaded her husband to bring them to England, and he bought a house for the family. 'I had said to him that I was not married to his parents, but to him. I was prepared to forgive and forget the past for the sake of our marriage,' she said.

But in England, things got worse for her. She was not allowed outside the house apart from to take her daughter to school occasionally.

In the UK, she knew no one in the local Punjabi community. 'He never let me talk to anyone, even at the school gates,' she says.

She began to sell her clothes on the internet to earn money. But when her husband found out, he took the money.

'He punished me by slapping my face and throwing my things on the street outside. He got hold of my mobile phone and broke it with a hammer so I was out of touch with my family in Pakistan. I had nobody to turn to for help,' she said.

By chance, a friendly neighbour called. She gave the mother her phone number in case she wanted to be friends.

The number turned out to be a precious gift. Faced with her daughter's forced marriage last autumn, she used her daughter's mobile to text the neighbour in England.

The neighbour – who also cannot be named for legal reasons – said: 'I realised it was serious. I am a volunteer with Jeena International which helps women in ethnic communities. I told them about this mother and her daughter.'

Jeena founder Rani Bilkhu said: 'This mother has decided to speak as a warning to others from the Punjabi community about the danger of their daughters being sent from the UK to enter underage forced marriages in Pakistan.

'We told the social services in our area, but they had not contacted the mother at any point. That is very worrying. We want British social services to take these cases seriously.'

In 2022, Britain's Forced Marriage Unit investigated 297 cases, almost half linked to planned weddings in Pakistan. Some 30 per cent of victims were under-age children, and often British citizens.

Post a Comment