A victim of the vile practice of forced marriage says it sent her from being a promising student into a spiral of abuse lasting over a decade.
The woman, of King Cross Road, Halifax, has now remarried and is trying to start a new life although the wounds from the horrors she endured at the hands of her own family are still raw.
But she is determined to speak out against her tormentors, to break the silence around a custom thought to be trapping 3,000 women in Britain a year.
She said: “It was awful. It was hell and I was trapped.
“I grew up in a devout Pakistani home in the heart of Gibbet Street and right from an early age I was living two lives, being British at school and Pakistani at home.
“But when I was nine I was told I was going to get married to a cousin, my aunt’s son who was 12 years older than me.
“I hated the guy and never felt comfortable around him but suddenly that was it and nothing could change.
“All of a sudden you are thrown into this nightmare and there is no way out.
“I got seriously depressed and tried everything to escape, overdosing on tablets, self-harming, and arguing non-stop but it didn’t work.
“My mum would bite me, hit me, slap me and say I was possessed.”
At just 15, as her fellow students at Hipperholme and Lightcliffe High School celebrated finishing GCSEs, she was flown to a village in Azad Kashmir, Pakistan, for the wedding.
She said: “All my family were there, hundreds of them, but I was completely alone – it was such a scary time.
“Everyone knew I didn’t want to get married and they made me feel like I was dirty. To have your self respect taken away at that age is so hard.
“On the wedding day I was dressed in all this gold jewellery, wedding dress and make up. I said ‘yes’, I had no choice. I was still a virgin. I only felt like a child.
“I had to stay with this guy for a month and the only way I survived it was staying up all night reading the Koran, I thought it was the only way he wouldn’t come near me.
“But one night I fell asleep, that was my biggest mistake. I woke up with him lying on top of me with one arm under me and his hand over my mouth and he raped me.
“I remember running straight to my mum’s house in Pakistan, bleeding like mad. She just said he is your husband, he is allowed to do exactly what he wants.”
Later that summer she returned to Halifax with her family to sort out her new husband’s visa but once back in England she ran away from home to escape the marriage.
After receiving death threats from relatives, she lived in hostels and spent time in cities across the country.
Now more than a decade on she still lives in Halifax, caring for her two sons, but says she will never forgive her family for the ordeal.
“I have had windows smashed, verbal abuse, threats on my doorstep and some from people who don’t even know me.
“It is backwards, dark ages bullying, and there is no place for it in civilised society.
“I want to speak out to help other Asian girls. I know it can be so severe you just give up but something has to be done.
“Police, schools and social services need to have much better cultural awareness. If the authorities had known they could have saved me from the start.
“The only thing that will change this is giving victims a voice.”
It is feared forced marriage is much more widespread across Britain than realised, with Home Office statistics showing 3,000 women a year victims of the practise.
Keighley MP Ann Cryer has long campaigned against what she calls a “wicked practice” and in February 1999, was the first MP to raise the issue of forced marriages in the House of Commons.
In a recent campaign, she said: “It is a fundamental breach of the human rights of the bride and groom and any attempt to defend or explain such action by unacceptable cultural values should not be tolerated.”
The custom, which can happen across all communities, is different to arranged marriages where husband and wife are willing participants.
When contacted the family said they had cut all ties with their daughter and didn’t want to comment.
“It was all a long time ago and we don’t want to bring up the past,” said a family member.
Source: Evening Courier – 7 April 2008