Forced marriage: Parents guilty of luring daughter to Bangladesh

This article originally appeared on 29 May 2018 on the BBC News website.


Leeds Crown Court heard the teenager sent her location details to her boyfriend, who then told police

A couple have been found guilty of luring their 19-year-old daughter to Bangladesh in an attempt to force her to marry her first cousin and have a baby with him.

Leeds Crown Court heard the teenager was lured to the country on a sham holiday in July 2016.

She was rescued after she texted her location to her boyfriend, who then told West Yorkshire Police.

The parents, who cannot be named, were convicted of forced marriage.

They were also found guilty of one count of using violence, threats or coercion to force their daughter into marriage, following a three-week trial.

The two defendants were told by Judge Simon Phillips QC to expect a “immediate imprisonment” when they are sentenced on June 18.

The verdict comes just a week after the UK’s first prosecution for forced marriage when a Birmingham mother was jailed for four and a half years.


The jury at the Leeds trial heard that the girl’s parents had told her they were going on a six-week holiday to Bangladesh to visit relatives and celebrate Eid.

However, just days after arriving on July 3 2016, she was told by her father that he had found a husband for her.

The victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons, told the court: “He said ‘I have planned this for years, the guy is really suitable, I’ve given him money for university, and he’s a really attractive guy for round here’.

“He was trying to get me to say yes, but at no point did I say yes. I thought it was disgusting because it was my first cousin and stood my ground.”


The teenager was taken to Bangladesh on the pretence she was seeing relatives [GETTY IMAGES]

The teenager, from Leeds, was supposedly told she would “live like a queen” and that rejecting the proposal would “bring shame” on her parents.

She also said her mother had pressured her father into hitting her, based on the belief it would stop her “rebelling” against the marriage.

The teenager, who was studying for her A-levels at the time, had told her mother that, even if she was forced to marry, she would file a report to authorities saying what had happened.

She told the jury: “But my mum said there was no way that that would happen, because they were going to leave me there for a year so that I would get pregnant so that he [the first cousin] could get a visa.”

With the help of her younger sister, she was able to contact the British High Commission, who rescued her days before the wedding was due to take place.

Presentational grey line

The new offence of forced marriage came into effect in June 2014, but prosecutions have been rare.

In June 2015, a man was jailed at Merthyr Crown Court for offences including forcing a woman into marrying him.

Last week, the Birmingham mother was jailed for forcing her daughter to marry a relative almost twice her age.

If you or someone you know has been affected by forced marriage you can find several organisations that may be able to help here.


Forced marriage: Mother jailed for four-and-a-half years

This article originally appeared on 23 May 2018 on the BBC News website.


The mother, who cannot be identified, was sentenced at Birmingham Crown Court

A mother who forced her daughter to marry a relative almost twice her age has been sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison.

The woman from Birmingham, who is in her 40s, duped the then 17-year-old into going to Pakistan in September 2016 to wed the man.

The girl became pregnant by him when she was 13 and he was 29, which her mother saw as a “marriage contract”.

The case is the first successful prosecution of its type.

Sentencing the mother at Birmingham Crown Court, Judge Patrick Thomas QC said the victim had been “sold for her passport”.

Neither the mother nor daughter can be identified for legal reasons.

Jurors had heard the daughter, now aged 19, was fooled into travelling to Pakistan on the promise of getting an iPhone for her 18th birthday.

‘Cruelly deceived’

When the plan to marry her to the relative 16 years her senior was revealed, the girl protested. In response her mother threatened to burn her passport and assaulted her.

“It takes no imagination to understand the terror she must have felt”, the judge said.

“You had cruelly deceived her. She was frightened, alone, held against her will, being forced into a marriage she dreaded.

“You must have known that was her state of mind. Yet for your own purposes, you drove the marriage through.”

Prosecutor Deborah Gould read a victim statement to the court in which the girl said she was proud of herself for coming forward and wanted other young women who found themselves in similar situations to ask for help.

The court heard how the wedding was the defendant’s idea. The victim’s father, who is divorced from her mother, eventually found out and told social services and police.

The mother was found guilty on Tuesday of two counts of forced marriage and a count of perjury after she lied to the High Court about the incident.

Presentational grey line

Analysis: Sima Kotecha, BBC Midlands correspondent

This sentence sends a strong message to potential perpetrators that forcing a person to get married is illegal and punishable by a lengthy term in custody.

As the first case of its kind, campaigners hope those who are silently suffering will be encouraged to seek help and speak out about the trauma and psychological damage caused by the coercive measures enforced by their relatives.

The irony is those who claim to love them the most are the ones who are destroying their lives through manipulation and deception.


Presentational grey line

The man the victim went on to marry first had sex with her when she was 13 after the “marriage contract” was made.

She was then forced to have an abortion upon her return to the UK.

The court was told this amounted to “significant trauma” which “fundamentally affected” her.

The new offence of forced marriage came into effect in June 2014, but prosecutions have been rare.

In June 2015, a man was jailed at Merthyr Crown Court for offences including forcing a woman into marrying him, while there is at least one other live case in the courts.

If you or someone you know has been affected by forced marriage you can find several organisations that may be able to help here.



Birmingham woman duped daughter into forced marriage, court told

This article originally appeared on 9 May 2018 on The Guardian news website.

Reporter: Hannah Summers

Mother allegedly tricked girl into taking trip to Pakistan for ‘ceremony’ with man 16 years her senior.

A mother from Birmingham duped her teenage daughter into travelling to Pakistan before forcing her to marry a man 16 years her senior, a court has heard.

The woman, who faces two counts of forced marriage and is also charged with perjury, told the 17-year-old girl she was being treated to a family holiday. But it transpired she planned for her to marry her new husband’s nephew, a 33-year-old Pakistani national, jurors were told.

Once taken abroad she was confined to the house and subjected to beatings while her mother threatened to burn her passport if she did not comply with her wishes, it is alleged.

Neither the mother nor daughter can be identified for legal reasons.

Jurors at Birmingham crown court heard how she was first betrothed to the man on a previous visit to Pakistan in 2012 when she was just 13. They were told that during the trip she was visited by an imam along with her future “husband”, who was then 29, and his parents.

“[She] was asked to sign a document which she thinks was some form of marriage agreement. That night when she wanted to sleep by her cousin the cousin told her she could not do this as she had to sleep by her husband,” the prosecuting barrister, Deborah Gould, told the court.

Gould added: “She was up until that point, as you can imagine at age 13, a virgin. That night [he] had sexual intercourse with [her].”

The 45-year-old defendant and her daughter, the third of four children born in Britain, returned to the UK, where it transpired the girl was pregnant.

Gould told the court: “She told her GP she had gone to Pakistan to meet her future husband who her mother wanted her to marry when she was older and he had had sex with her.” An abortion was arranged.

Birmingham children’s services started an investigation but accepted the defendant’s account that this was a story of two teenagers who had sneakily had sex without her knowledge and the case was closed, the court heard.

The crown described the victim as a highly vulnerable teenager, desperate to win the love and affection of her parents. She was deeply affected by their divorce when she was five years old and was identified as a child with special educational needs.

But it was after the first trip to Pakistan that her behaviour deteriorated drastically, jurors heard. She ran away from home and was placed in emergency foster care. She became vulnerable to child sexual exploitation, was the victim of rape and had a second termination.

In December 2015 the teenager was moved from a children’s home into supported accommodation and came to rely more on her mother. The court heard that when her care order ended her mother persuaded social workers of her need for a family holiday and in August 2016 the pair flew out to Pakistan to stay with relatives.

But once there, the girl’s movements were restricted, it is alleged. “She had no local currency, no mobile phone and her mother kept hold of her passport,” said Gould.

On her 18th birthday the teenager’s mother told her she was to marry, showing her a photo of the man by whom she had fallen pregnant four years earlier. Gould told the court: “[She] told her mother she did not want to marry. She said he was too old for her, that she wanted to complete her education … But her mother told her she had no choice. It was, she said, a cultural matter.”

The teenager was confined to the house and forced to get up at 6am to make food for her relatives – if she refused she was hit and slapped – jurors heard. This was a pattern of coercive, manipulative behaviour to bring her into line, the court heard.

The girl managed to send a text to her sister saying she was being locked in the house and beaten, jurors heard. The alarm was raised but because her social worker was off sick no action was taken.

On 18 September she was taken to a salon and dressed for the wedding. It was there that an imam brought her a document to sign, the court heard.

“The imam did not ask for her consent and she did not give it. Once the certificate was signed by her, however, she was formally married,” Gould told the court.

She was then taken to the wedding party where she met her husband. Later she managed to ask a friend for help via Facebook and when her mother returned alone to Britain she was summoned to the high court.

It was there, the prosecution says, she lied under oath, telling a judge that no ceremony had taken place, that her daughter was happy and wished to remain in Pakistan.

When the girl was finally brought back to Britain her mother threatened her with black magic if she told anyone what had happened, it is alleged. The defendant was arrested in January 2017 and denied forcing her daughter to be engaged or married.

She said there was no thought of marriage until after they arrived in Pakistan, when the matter was raised by the girl’s prospective in-laws. She claims her daughter initially rejected the idea but later agreed to a wedding.

A social worker, Natasha McKenzie, told the court she had felt uncomfortable handing over the girl’s previously confiscated passport. Asked to describe her she said: “She is a very loud character, she is very bubbly, likes to have a laugh. She has a good heart.”

But McKenzie said the teenager suffered from “very low self-esteem” and had a “vulnerable side”. Asked if she was someone who was open to manipulation McKenzie said: “Definitely.”

The defendant denies deception with the intention of causing another person to leave the country for the purpose of a forced marriage and a second count of forced marriage. She also denies a third charge of perjury and a fourth charge of attempting to pervert the course of justice.

If the prosecution is successful the case could lead to the first conviction for forced marriage in England.

The trial continues.


Pakistan bride charged over ‘poisoned milk’ killings

This article originally appeared on 31 October 2017 on the BBC News website.

Police say the poisoned milk was turned into lassi, a yoghurt drink popular in South Asia | AFP/Getty Images

Police say the poisoned milk was turned into lassi, a yoghurt drink popular in South Asia | AFP/Getty Images

A newlywed woman in Pakistan has been arrested on suspicion of killing her husband and at least 14 of his relatives with poisoned milk.

Police claim Asiya Bibi had intended the deadly substance for her husband, and mixed it with his milk last week – but he failed to drink it.

Instead it was turned into a batch of lassi, a yogurt drink, and served to his extended family.

Police said the woman had been forced into an arranged marriage in September.

Such weddings are not uncommon in poorer and more rural areas of Pakistan, and are often pushed through by family members.

In this case, which took place in central Muzaffargarh, local media say the bride had tried unsuccessfully to flee her marital home and return to her parents.

Senior police official Owais Ahmad confirmed that Asiya Bibi had been charged with murder. A man alleged to be her lover, and his aunt, have also been arrested.

Muzaffargarh police told BBC Urdu 15 people had died, while a further eight were in hospital in the nearby city of Multan.

The death toll has been rising since last Thursday, when the tainted drinks were first served and eight people initially died.

District Police Officer Muzaffargarh Awais Ahmad Malik said the kind of poison used would only be clear after chemical tests on the victims.

He added that all those arrested had been charged under anti-terror law.

“We include this clause primarily to deter the local people from committing such crimes,” Mr Malik said.

“Such clauses are usually struck out by the courts later on.”


The domestic violence victims ‘left begging for a home’

This article originally appeared on 31 October 2017 on the BBC News website.

By Sarah O’Connell and Adam Eley

Women fleeing domestic abuse have told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme they are being left homeless because councils are failing to provide them with suitable temporary accommodation.

“It was very difficult indeed, emotionally, because you’re basically begging [for somewhere to stay], and every day not knowing where you’re going to be sleeping,” says Kay.

“You’re trying to put on a happy face to be supportive of the children – telling them, ‘It’s going to be all right,’ when deep inside you really don’t think it’s going to be.

“You don’t know where you’re going to be staying.”

Kay left a violent relationship at the end of last year, and initially moved into a refuge on a short-term basis.

When her stay came to an end, Bromley Council eventually agreed to house her as a single person.

But when her two children came to live with her, she was told that housing would not be made available to them as a family, leading to three months of her and the children sofa-surfing with friends and family.

A consultation into how to improve access to social housing for domestic abuse victims has been launched by the government | GETTY IMAGES

A consultation into how to improve access to social housing for domestic abuse victims has been launched by the government | GETTY IMAGES

The government has announced a consultation into how to improve access to social housing for domestic abuse victims in England.

It says a number of measures are already in place to support victims – including a £40m fund to be spent across four years, in part to “strengthen specialist accommodation-based services”.

‘One opportunity’

Housing lawyer Jane Pritchard says when it comes to finding temporary accommodation for victims, there is a “really low bar”.

“The local authority simply needs ‘reason to believe’ that the person is homeless, that they’re eligible for assistance under the Housing Act, and that they are in priority need of accommodation.

“Then there’s a duty to provide suitable temporary accommodation immediately.”

But she regularly comes across situations where a council has told a domestic violence victim “it’s not their responsibility and to go to another council”.

Jane Pritchard says if councils turn victims away they may return to their abuser

Jane Pritchard says if councils turn victims away they may return to their abuser

“When someone is fleeing domestic abuse, we may only have one chance, one opportunity to assist in protecting them – to ensure that they’re housed in suitable, safe accommodation,” Ms Pritchard says.

“If that applicant goes to the council and is turned away at that time, we know that that person may never go back.

“They may go back to the perpetrator and the abuse, and may never ever have the opportunity again of being rehoused.”

Hostel ‘with 14 men’

Sophia – not her real name – fled her home after being in an abusive relationship, travelling to London, where she hoped a council would offer her assistance.

But, she says: “They just dismissed me. They didn’t seem to understand that I was homeless. I was actually homeless.

“I repeatedly visited the council, and there were times when I’ve been in a phone booth crying my eyes out [while calling them]. I was so vulnerable.”

The council later offered her a place at a hostel – one housing 14 men.

“I was scared. I was just scared. I couldn’t see myself living with 14 men, with shared facilities – toilet, bathroom, kitchen. It’s not safe,” she says.

“One of those men actually came to me and said, ‘If you get a knock on your door at two in the morning, don’t worry, it’s only me.’

In the end, she “just ran away”, staying at a bed and breakfast at her own cost, and, at the thought of having to move back into the hostel, she tried to kill herself.

Eventually, Sophia managed to find permanent accommodation – but she did so without the help of the local authority.

‘Such a relief’

After three months of sofa-surfing, Kay and her two children were found accommodation by Bromley Council.

The local authority said in a statement: “Whilst any delay around offering more permanent housing is clearly regrettable, it should be remembered that these is a long list for housing across London and it is important for everybody else on the list that due process is followed”.

Kay remembers her son’s reaction to waking up in his own bed for the first time in months.

“He said, ‘Mum it was so comfortable,'” she says. “It’s such a relief.”


Two accused in Canada ‘honour killing’ case face extradition

This article originally appeared on 8 September 2017 on the BBC News website.


Malkit Kaur Sidhu and Subjit Singh Badesha (right photo) are accused of planning the attack on the young couple. Image: JUSTICEFORJASSI.COM

Canada’s Supreme Court has paved the way for the extradition of two Canadians facing charges related to their alleged role in an “honour killing”. 

Malkit Kaur Sidhu and Subjit Singh Badesha have been fighting extradition to India.

They are accused of orchestrating the murder in 2000 of Jaswinder “Jassi” Sidhu in Punjab.

The highest court has restored surrender orders for the two accused.

In 2014, Canada’s then federal justice minister ordered their surrenders after receiving assurances from India regarding their treatment if incarcerated.

In its unanimous decision released on Friday, Supreme Court set aside a 2016 British Columbia appellate court decision that struck down the orders over concerns the two could be subjected to violence, torture or neglect while incarcerated in India.

Mrs Sidhu, Jassi’s mother, and Mr Badesha, her uncle, deny any involvement in her death.

Both are elderly and have a number of health conditions.

The alleged murder of Jassi, a young Indian-Canadian woman, was over a clandestine marriage to a man her family considered unsuitable.

Sidhu secretly married Mithu Sidhu, a rickshaw driver, instead of the wealthy, older man her family reportedly preferred.

She fled to India to reunite with her husband a few months after her family learned of the marriage. Soon after, the couple were attacked while on a motor scooter.

Mithu was badly beaten while the body of Jassi, with her throat cut, was found in a ditch the next day.

Efforts to bring those behind Sidhu’s murder and Mithu’s assault to justice have been followed closely in North America and India for years.

Thirteen people, including Mr Badesha and Ms Sidhu, were charged in India in connection with the attacks. Three men in India were eventually given life sentences.

Mrs Sidhu and Mr Badesha – the two Canadians accused – were arrested in Canada in 2012 under the Extradition Act following an international investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and Indian authorities.

India wants them to stand trial on charges of conspiracy to commit murder.

In 2014, a British Columbia Supreme Court judge ordered they be extradited.

Government lawyers appealed to Canada’s top court after a surrender orders was struck down by a British Columbia appellate court.


Mothers ‘an unseen force’ in ‘honour’ abuse

This article originally appeared on 27 June 2017 on the BBC News website.


Of the 100 cases of ‘honour’ crime looked at, 49 involved mothers. Image: John Hall, NSPCC

Mothers are the “unseen force” behind so-called honour-based abuse, inflicting violence on their daughters, a study has found.

Research by Rachael Aplin, a criminologist from Leeds Beckett University, said this was often unrecognised by police.

Of the 100 “honour” crimes she studied, 49 involved mothers – but this was often not recorded in crime reports.

Cases included violence to daughters, sometimes to induce an abortion.

She said the focus on any action taken against perpetrators should be on both males and females.

Mrs Aplin, a senior lecturer in criminology at the university, is on a career break from her role as a police detective sergeant.


Rachael Aplin said police and social services needed to “reassess”

She said: “The level of involvement of mothers in these cases was a real surprise, as was the level to which this wasn’t acknowledged in police reporting.

“As many victims are children, there is a risk that agencies place them back in their mothers’ care, mistakenly believing that this will ensure their protection.

“Law enforcement and social services need to reassess their strategies for dealing with honour-based abuse, taking full account of the role of mothers, to ensure children and young women are not returned to, or remain in, dangerous situations.”

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‘She would hit me with a rolling pin’

“Sadir”, who was born in Bradford to Afghan parents, was taken into care after being abused by her mother who tried to force her into marriage.

Speaking to the BBC, she described her mother as the main perpetrator, saying she was regularly beaten as a child.

From the age of nine she was told she could not play out, but had to learn how to cook in order to be “marriage material”.

Now 35, she said: “I would get physically battered if I didn’t cook chapatis or if the chapatis weren’t round enough.

“My mum would get the rolling pin out and physically chastise me with it. So she’d punish me and then when Dad came home he’d punish me also because I didn’t listen to my mum.

“I felt numb, sore. I was in shock; I couldn’t believe she would hit me with a rolling pin, but then after a while you got used to it and it was a normal experience getting hit.

“You wouldn’t dare tell anyone you were getting physically chastised at home, you’d just keep it to yourself and go to school and come back.”

At 13 years old, she came home to her own surprise engagement party after her mother had planned for her to marry her adult cousin in Afghanistan, whom she had never met.

“We never used to have guests round so I asked my mum whose party is was and she said ‘it’s an engagement party’. I said ‘well, who’s getting married?’. I got a bit excited and she said, ‘it’s your engagement party, I want you to go upstairs and get dressed’.

“I was presented with a photo of a man, my mum’s nephew in Afghanistan. I was supposed to marry this guy. I’d never met him; he was an adult and I was 13, a child.

“From that day onwards I knew I was going to run away.”


‘Honour’ abuse is normally inflicted on women who are said to have “shamed” their community

“Honour” abuse is usually associated with women from Muslim, Sikh or Hindu backgrounds and happens when they are seen to have “shamed” their community. It can also affect men, with some charities saying male abuse is underreported.

In Mrs Aplin’s research, the abuse perpetrated by mothers included hitting, kicking and slapping, assault with household objects, cutting off daughters’ hair and deception in order to encourage a fleeing victim back home.

Other behaviours included threatening to kill the victim or throw them downstairs, bartering to sell them, false imprisonment, emotional blackmail, confiscation of passports, bank cards and mobile phones and emotional blackmail.

‘Women as suspects’

Mrs Alpin said: “The instinctive reaction from the public and from police officers and social workers is that mothers protect and nurture and love their children. But actually we need to rethink that.

“Mothers are the key perpetrators in abuse against daughters, and this is mostly abuse pre-marriage. So it’s not necessarily abuse against wives once they’ve been forced into marriage.”

Jasvinder Sanghera founded the charity Karma Nirvana to support victims of “honour” abuse and forced marriage, which currently receives about 850 calls a month.

She said: “What they need to acknowledge is that when they are risk assessing or investigating cases they have also got to consider women as suspects, so that they are investigating them, they are holding them to account.

“They need to be recognising that the victims are not safe with these females.”


Meeting in secret: The outcast wives of India

This article appeared on 27 February 2017 on the BBC Inside Out website.

Many of the women at the gathering had been abused and abandoned

Many of the women at the gathering had been abused and abandoned

At a secret location in Chandigarh, a special meeting is taking place.

Women from all over Punjab have travelled to the capital to seek help from Amanjot Kaur Ramoowalia – the head of a charity for women abandoned by their foreign-national husbands.

Ms Ramoowalia estimates there are more than 15,000 women across the state, who are in this situation.

She sees around 15 abandoned wives a month and says the numbers are increasing.

“I see a lot of beautiful, educated women. They are in a mess,” she told BBC Inside Out.

“They are ashamed to live in a society as an abandoned wife. I believe this is a big violation of human rights.”

Money over love

Ms Ramoowalia has been working with abandoned women for more than 10 years

Ms Ramoowalia has been working with abandoned women for more than 10 years

Their husbands come from all over the world, but mainly countries with a large South Asian diaspora, like the UK, the US and Canada.

The women agree to the marriages in the hope of embarking on a better life abroad.

But for many of their grooms, the motivation is money rather than love.

A third of the men are believed to be from Britain.

Ms Ramoowalia said: “He (the groom) comes here and he asks for a massive dowry.

“They marry. He takes the money and enjoys the honeymoon. Then he never comes back.”

‘I was pregnant when he left me’

In India, it is customary for the bride’s family to give money or gifts to the groom, despite the practice being outlawed in 1961. The dowries often amount to tens of thousands of pounds.

One of the women at the secret meeting has travelled from a rural village on the outskirts of Punjab.

Kamaljit Kaur married a man from Italy three years ago. But just months after their wedding, he left her.

She was pregnant with his child at the time.

“Soon after we got married…he started complaining about the dowry. He said my family isn’t happy with you.”

Find out more

You can watch Outcast Wives: An Inside Out Special on BBC One London, Monday at 19:30 GMT.

It will also be broadcast on BBC World on 4 March will be available on the iPlayer for 30 days.

Kamaljit’s husband eventually left the family home and returned to Italy. She hasn’t seen him since.

Their baby daughter was born with serious health problems – but her in-laws refused to help.

“They said the baby is born disabled. We don’t want anything to do with her. Our relations are over.”

Sadly, Kamaljit’s baby died months later. Her husband did not contact her.

‘I’ve been trapped for 16 years’

Divorcing a foreign national in India is an extremely complex and expensive process.

Often the women’s families are also adversely affected.

Darshan’s daughter got married back in 1997, but they’re still waiting for closure.

“He didn’t say anything until he was leaving. He said I’m married abroad. I have a son and a daughter so I can’t take your daughter. Do whatever you want.

“We took legal action. I’ve been trapped in this mess for 16 years.”

Daljit Kaur is a lawyer for the Non-Resident Indian Commission of Punjab, which deals with legal cases against foreign nationals.

She said: “Our legal system is a bit slow and it will take years to get a decision.

“There are a number of difficulties… and moreover these girls don’t have the money to pay for the legal system.”

Living with the shame


Ms Ramoowalia says abandonment is like “living in chains”

Back under the baking sun of Chandigarh, Amonjot Kaur Ramoowalia is giving advice to dozens of women in this exact situation.

But the assistance she can offer is limited. Whilst abandonment is considered a crime in India, once a foreign national leaves the jurisdiction it’s extremely difficult to prosecute him.

She says some of the stories she hears are utterly appalling.

“One girl got married. He raped her in a systematic way and left her with a child. There’s no strong law you can follow.

“She had to live the rest of her life, with the shame of being an abandoned wife.”

Ms Ramoowalia says other countries should be aware of the actions of their citizens and co-operate with the Indian government in holding them accountable.

In the meantime, the abandoned wives of India face a life in limbo.


On Valentine’s Day, say #IDONT

This article appeared on 10 February 2017 on the UNFPA official website.


UNITED NATIONS/KAPILVASTU/ERBIL – “I’ve been married for five years – since I was 12 – but I haven’t gone to live with my husband yet,” said Rupali Kurmi, from Kapilvastu district, in Nepal. “That’s happening in about three weeks’ time.”

This Valentine’s Day, for its annual #IDONT campaign, UNFPA is partnering with artists to raise awareness about child marriage, which ensnares tens of thousands of girls around the world every single day. If nothing is done to stop these human rights violations, an estimated 70 million girls will be married, while still children, over the next five years.

These girls have no choice over whether or when to marry – or to whom. They are typically pulled out of school, and are often forced into motherhood before they are emotionally or physically ready.

“I was so young when we were first engaged, and now I have to go and live with a completely new family, even though I’ve never met them before,” Rupali said. “I haven’t told my parents this, but I’m very, very scared.”

I don’t want flowers; I want a future

Acclaimed photographer Vincent Tremeau visited UNFPA programmes in Nepal and Iraq, where girls face a heightened risk of child marriage. He asked these children to dream of the future they want, and to create costumes depicting that future.

In rural Nepal, poverty and gender inequality mean that girls are often married off before their 18th birthdays. But dozens of girls showed up dressed as doctors, civil engineers, teachers, dancers, accountants and more – a testament to what they can achieve if they are allowed to fulfil their potential.

“I’m going to own a shop that sells nothing but noodles,” said 14-year-old Maya. “There will be queues of people out the door, and nobody will ever complain about any of our products – service with a smile will be my motto.”

In Iraqi displacement camps, Mr. Tremeau met child survivors of the bloody conflicts in both Iraq and Syria. They, too, had big dreams.

“I love making things the most, so when I grow up I’m going to crochet and sew things all the time,” said Nufa, 12, from Abali, Iraq. Others came dressed as actors, sailors, artists or engineers.

The images were collected under the theme “This Valentine’s Day, I don’t want flowers. I want a future.” They are the latest instalment of Mr. Tremeau’s ongoing photo series One Day I Will.

“I felt my heart fall out”

All of the young participants were aware of child marriage – and some had seen its worst consequences.

“My best friend was married at 16, and died while she was giving birth the year after,” explained 18-year-old Sirjana, in Nepal, who wants to be a social worker. “We’d grown up together, and she didn’t want to get married – but she didn’t have a choice. When her father told me that she’d died, I felt my heart fall out.”

Globally, complications of pregnancy are the second leading killer of girls aged 15-19. And in developing countries, nine out of 10 births to adolescent girls take place within a marriage or union.

In Nepal, more than 48 per cent of adult women report that they were married before reaching age 18. And in Iraq, more than a fifth of girls aged 15 to 19 are married, according to 2011 data. Conflict and displacement could be making things worse.

For one girl’s family, child marriage seemed to be just one of several terrible choices.

Malak, 11, endured life under the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS or Daesh). “My sisters were 13 and 14, but my father said that they had to get married because otherwise they risked being taken by Daesh and forced to marry their soldiers instead,” Malak said. “They didn’t believe him, but it turned out that he was right: The day after the wedding, Daesh turned up at the house and beat our father as punishment.”

Know your rights

But in many cases, practical measures can help girls escape child marriage. Empowering girls to know and advocate for their rights is a critical first step.

Heba, 11, learned about her rights from a UNFPA-supported programme in her Iraqi displacement camp. “I see sometimes here in the camp the parents of some girls talking about marriage and some of them want to do it, but I always tell them that it’s a bad thing for them,” she said.

Fourteen-year-old Punita, in Nepal, learned about the harms of child marriage from a programme supported by UNFPA and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development. She wants to break the cycle by staying in school and becoming a teacher. “All of my sisters had to leave school by year seven to get married,” she said, “so I’m determined to keep studying for as long as possible and get a great job – just to show the world that one of us could do it.”

Child marriage: Not a good look

In a separate project, Palestinian artist Rand Jarallah used makeup to spread the word about child marriage. Five school-aged girls in New York volunteered to act as a canvas for Ms. Jarallah, a UNFPA Innovation Fellow.

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Five young volunteers helped raise awareness of child marriage. Photo illustration by Whitney Kidder

Ms. Jarallah applied deliberately excessive cosmetics to the volunteers, who were dressed in wedding attire.

The project is meant to emphasize that marriage is not a good look on a girl.

Reporting by Corinne Redfern, Mohamed Megahed and Santosh Chhetri


View ‘Our Girl’, Short Film on Forced Marriage

Our Girl is a short animated film highlighting the devastating impact that forced marriage causes. The film, produced by the Our Girl Campaign, aims to get communities talking and acting towards ending forced marriage in the UK. Our Girl has been disseminated by specialist organisations in their work with communities, young people and professionals, as well as raising awareness that forcing someone to marry against their will is a breach of basic human rights.

More about the film:

The multi-award winning film Our Girl, recognised by the 2015 United Nations DPI Gold Award, was made with the generous support of the Forced Marriage Unit at the Foreign Office, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, the John Ellerman Foundation, the Bromley Trust and the Oakdale Trust.

It was completed and launched in 2014 to coincide with the criminalisation of forced marriage in the UK. In 2016, the Our Girl film campaign was awarded a grant by Comic Relief to form the basis of a large scale UK wide prevention campaign about forced marriage aimed at those affected by and at risk. The Our Girl campaign will promote help seeking as well as act as a catalyst to discussions in communities, schools and the general public through a wide and diverse network of partners and activities.

[Text reproduced from the Our Girl campaign website]