British teenage girl saved from forced marriage in Pakistan

February 1st, 2024

A 13-year-old British schoolgirl has been rescued from being forced into marriage with her cousin in Pakistan.

The child’s wedding, which had been secretly arranged by her father, was called off at the eleventh hour before she was to fly back to the UK last weekend.

The little girl’s plight became clear when her mother sent a text message to her neighbors in England asking for help.

The girl’s 40-year-old mother told the Mail yesterday: “She was concerned and wrote to her neighbors as the child was to be married to an adult man on her father’s orders.” . Pakistan in August last year. When I got there, I realized that my husband had been cheating on 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.

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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 realized what was planned for her. I think she was scared. She told me she never wanted to see her father again.

“My daughter, who is smart, a good student and has lots of friends in England, was very excited to go on holiday to Pakistan.” Instead she was almost caught up in a country she barely knew married adults.

“The cousin was my husband’s sister’s son. Although child marriage still exists in Pakistan, by law a girl can get married as early as 16 years old. She only knows the British lifestyle.

A mother and her daughter returned to an empty house because her father had sold all the furniture for Christmas.

He told British authorities he planned to leave the UK and stay in Pakistan, the destitute mother says.

“I can’t think about divorce because our society doesn’t approve of it,” said the mother.

In 2007, she and her husband had an arranged marriage in Pakistan, attended by 400 guests. It was organized during the week he was visiting from the UK. “I never met him before we got married. I knew he lived in England, but I had never been there,” says the mother, a science and mathematics graduate who speaks good English. “But I was 25 at the time and looking forward to getting married. I was determined to make it work for us.

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“Very soon I learned that he was a controlling character, a narcissist. He hit me in the face once or twice.

For the first six years of marriage, the man left his new wife behind in Pakistan, where she lived with his parents. “He was always cooking and cleaning. “My mother-in-law told me what to do,” she said.

“At first they seemed happy with me, but soon I became like a slave.” My husband came once or twice a year from England, where he worked as a civil servant in a factory. I was very unhappy about it.

Eventually she persuaded her husband to take her to England and he bought a house for the family. “I told him that I am not married to his parents, but to him. I was ready to forgive and forget the past for our marriage,” she said.

But things got worse in England. She was not allowed to leave the house except from time to time to take her daughter to school.

She didn’t know anyone from the local Punjabi community in the UK. “He never let me talk to anyone, not even at the school gate,” she says.

To make money, she started selling her clothes online. But when her husband found out about it, he took the money.

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“He punished me by hitting me in the face and throwing my things on the street.” He took my cell phone and smashed it with a hammer, causing me to lose contact with my family in Pakistan. I had no one to turn to for help,” she said.

A friendly neighbor happened to call. She gave her mother her phone number in case she wanted to make friends.

The number turned out to be a precious gift. In light of her daughter’s forced marriage last fall, she used her daughter’s cell phone to send a message to a neighbor in England.

The neighbor, who also cannot be named for legal reasons, said: “I knew it was serious. I volunteer with Jeena International, which helps women in ethnic communities. I told them about this mother and her daughter.”

Jeena founder Rani Bilhu said: “This mother has decided to warn other members of the Punjabi community about the dangers of bringing her daughters from the UK in forced marriages of minors to be sent to Pakistan.”

“We reported this to the social services in our area, but they never contacted the mother. This is very worrying. We want UK social services to take these cases seriously.”

The UK Forced Marriage Unit investigated 297 cases in 2022, almost half of which involved planned weddings in Pakistan. About 30 percent of the victims were minor children, often British citizens.


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