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Forced to marry a stranger: a child bride shares her story

Sharina* and Nazir met for the first time on their wedding day.

Sharina was just 14 and Nazir was 17. Their decision to marry was not theirs to make. Instead, both of them were forced into marriage by their families.

Every year, 13.5 million children under 18 are married, with many having little to no say in the matter – and of that number, 12 million are girls. Child marriage is a serious human rights violation that often cuts short a girls’ education and increases her risk of experiencing physical and sexual abuse, as well as health problems.

It won’t be easy – but ending child marriage is possible. Plan International has been working tirelessly across many countries and for many years to help end child marriage through powerful partnerships with parents, lawmakers, community leaders and especially youth.

Through our work, we encounter many former child brides – Sharina is one of them. Now she shares her story of being forced into marriage at age 14.

Portrait of Sharina

The story begins with my father. It was my father who suddenly one day took me to an old man who was visiting our village. At the time, I did not know this old man was the grandfather of the man who would soon become my husband. I also didn’t know that this “meeting” was to showcase me as a potential bride.

It was my brother’s wife who told me what was really going on. I was scared. Me – married? I was desperately sad and began to cry. I had no desire to get married.

After I was chosen as the bride for the old man’s grandson, no one talked to me about what was going to happen. At the same time, I dropped out of school.

The reasons I dropped out were partly economic, since my parents did not have much money for education, and because my best friends had also dropped out.  I was very fond of my friends and happy in our village. The thought that I had to marry and move to a place far away without anyone I knew was awfully painful to me. I did nothing but sit inside and cry.

My family travelled to meet the man who would become my husband, but I never met him – not until we were married.

The night before the wedding

The “gaye holud” is an important part of wedding traditions in Bangladesh.

It’s the night before the wedding where guests congregate while the bride is adorned for the wedding. An important part of this tradition is smearing the bride in yellow turmeric which brightens and softens the skin.  Another tradition is for the groom’s family to bring gifts for the bride – they gave me a yellow sari to wear for the ceremony.

For a bride, the holud should be a feast and celebration but I just cried. I sat on a straw mat in front of all the others, in my yellow sari, while I was decorated with yellow flowers in my hair and around my neck. Henna tattoos were also drawn on my hands and up my arm. Thoughts flew through my head – “Was it really happening now? How could it be?”

A wedding should be a happy moment but this was tragic. I knew I was too young.

Hands painted in henna

Here comes the groom

The wedding party started at 10am with the whole village present. While the party was going on outside, I sat alone in my room. The neighbours teased me, crying outside the door, “Here comes the groom!”. Each time it happened, my heart jumped and I felt like I could not breathe.

I looked down at all times during the formal session of the ceremony, it would be over when I said “kobul” – a confirmation that I consent to the marriage. But I refused to say it. This made my family angry and everyone shouted that I had to say it. They said I was being disrespectful. I had no choice. I said the words and not once did I look at the man I was forced to go away with.

The beginning of a new life

Nazir, my husband, had also been forced to marry when his mother could no longer manage to care for him. She had shown him my picture and told him that it was now or never.

As we drove away from my childhood home, we did not say a word. When I finally glanced at him, I thought he was not handsome. I did not like the look of him. The tears came back and finally I fainted.

In the first days, we hardly spoke. The tone between us was formal and brief. He eventually asked me to be less formal but I told him that I wanted to go home. He said we were married now. He was kind and understanding but said I had to realize this was my life now.

Man and woman outside home

Today, the relationship between us is much better. A few months after the wedding, I was seriously ill and bedridden with a fever. Nazir sat with me every night, put wet cloths on my forehead and took care of me. He said he loved me. He was very afraid and said he would rather die than lose me. After that, my feelings towards Nazir began to change.

Tonni

When I fell pregnant, it was Nazir who took care of me. When Tonni, our daughter, was born, Nazir was so happy. He had wanted a daughter and was so proud. I was surprised the first time I saw her. She was so pretty.

woman and man holding baby

My daughter and her future means everything to Nazir and I. Our greatest wish for her is that she will study and get an education – something we never had. Nazir’s wish is that she will become a doctor.

Together, we’ve agreed that we are never going to make the same mistakes our parents made – we will NEVER marry off our daughter.

Ending child marriage

Around the world, ‘normal’ for too many girls is facing roadblocks that challenge their power, freedom and equality just as they enter womanhood. Child marriage is an extreme example of such a roadblock, and one that often forces girls just like Sharina to drop out of school and become mothers before their young minds and bodies are ready.

Plan International Canada is calling on Canadians like you to stand with girls like Sharina to Defy Normal and help end child marriage. Together, we can support girls in becoming empowered, confident women who decide their own futures.

*Name has been changed to protect identity.

Source: https://stories.plancanada.ca/forced-to-marry-a-stranger-a-child-bride-shares-her-story/?fbclid=IwAR34Y-hd8u3kxwoPxd2RA3FQBbC8FTcT79jz5kHoHHyUROq93p0jnBlaEJ8

Forced marriage law ‘could stop victims reporting crime’

Criminalising forced marriage could stop victims from speaking up if their parents are locked up, campaigners say.

While legislation sends a “strong message,” a charity working with victims said it also scared off others.

Rubie Marie, 35, who was forced to marry in Bangladesh when she was 15, said: “It is hard because you love your family of course you do… But at the end of the day abuse is abuse.”

The Home Office said it was essential victims had confidence to speak out.

Forced marriage became a criminal offence in 2014, but only one case has been brought in Wales since then – with four convictions in total across the UK.

However, the Welsh Government estimates there are up to 100 cases of forced marriage every year.

Forced marriage victim Rubie Marie

Rubie Marie was raped almost daily by her husband in Bangladesh after being forced to marry him at the age of 15

In 2018, the forced marriage unit – a joint effort between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Home Office – gave advice or support in 1,196 UK cases.

Shahien Taj of the Cardiff-based Henna Foundation told BBC Wales Live more prevention work was needed to educate perpetrators, who are often the victims’ parents.

The charity said victims often wanted to return to the family home once the situation was resolved.

“I don’t know a single victim that I’ve worked with that has said she’s ok with the police coming down on parents like a tonne of bricks – all too often they don’t want any intervention because of that,” said Ms Taj.

Ms Marie, who now lives in the Midlands, said once she was married, she was raped “more or less, every single day” so her new husband could have a child and a ticket to live in the UK.

A traffic jam at an intersection in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Rubie Marie was forced to marry a man twice her age after being taken to Bangladesh

The Home Office is consulting on proposals that would legally require those who work closely with young people, such as teachers and social workers, to report suspected cases of forced marriage.

Ms Taj believes forced marriage protection orders are the preferred route – allowing young people to apply to the courts for protection, while keeping the family out of the criminal system.

“We’ve had eight cases where young women have gone home and been able to move on with their lives,” she said.

Samsunear Ali from the charity Bawso said education was key as many parents did not even realise they were breaking the law.

“For them they are doing the right thing and that’s the only way they know how to reduce the level of shame in the family that this child could potentially bring.

“It’s a huge problem in Wales, and it’s still not being talked about as much.”

She said there were cases in rural Wales where women had no support and they were at greater risk, with forced marriages potentially “going on for generations and nobody knows about it”.

Rubie Marie as a young girl

Rubie Marie – pictured here aged five – was told her trip to Bangladesh was a holiday

‘I was raped every day’

Rubie Marie was born and raised in south Wales. She had a happy childhood but everything changed once she hit puberty.

She was taken to Bangladesh in 1998 at the age of 15 under the pretence of it being a holiday.

“We were only supposed to go for six weeks but then it went to two months, then it went to three months, then it got to six months and we all got homesick,” she said.

“I asked my father, I said we want to go home. I want to go back to school. I want my friends. But he would say things like ‘we spent so much money coming here’… That was his excuse, his cover up, his facade to plan what he was planning which was the marriage.

“I was sitting down having dinner with the whole family and he just came in and he sat down and he started to eat and out of the blue, and I remember it like it was yesterday,

“‘Wouldn’t it be great if we got Ruby married?’ And I was mortified. I was a kid and I had a tantrum. I threw my plate on the floor. I started kicking off, banging the doors, ran into my room screaming, shouting. I just didn’t know how to comprehend that information.

“I was put on a bidding system. One of my uncles went and started bidding me. It was horrible. I was treated like a slave.

“I was in this alien country – I didn’t know where to go, where to turn to, didn’t know where there was a phone. Nothing.”

‘I was disowned’

Ms Marie was forced to marry a man twice her age and for her engagement she was “dressed up like a doll”.

“The house was full of laughing people, you know there was people everywhere trying to come into my room to see me, to have a peek at this new bride,” she said.

“And I was just sitting there just thinking ‘I’m just an object’. You just got to do what you’ve got to do and that’s it. My vision was just get home, do whatever you need to do to get home.”

Once she was married, her new husband wanted a child.

“More or less, I’d been raped every single day to get pregnant, so then he’s got an official British pathway of coming to Britain because he’s got a child. That was their plan,” she added.

She got pregnant and came back to Wales to give birth. When the baby was born, she fled: “That brought shame to the family again in their eyes. And I was disowned for a very long time.”

Rubie now works as an ambassador, educating people about forced marriage.

“Now I’m speaking and talking to the world and sharing in that way of there is light at the end of the tunnel, there is a place for you in this world.

“It’s not all doom and gloom. And it’s not hell. You’ve got to turn it around. You’ve got to find that strength to turn it around and use it to your advantage and make it a happy place otherwise no one’s going to do that for you.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “We know that forced marriage is often a hidden crime and so it is essential that victims have the confidence to come forward to get the help they need.

“We are seeking views on whether introducing a mandatory reporting duty might help strengthen protections for victims and ensure more perpetrators are brought to justice.

“The consultation is open to everyone and we are particularly interested in hearing from victims and survivors of forced marriage, and professionals with expertise in the issue of forced marriage.”

Source: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-wales-46455013

New Moroccan law fails to protect women from forced marriage: activists

BEIRUT (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A new law criminalizing violence against women that came into effect in Morocco on Wednesday does not fully protect women against forced marriage or domestic violence, activists said.

Campaigners broadly welcomed the new law, which criminalizes “harassment, aggression, sexual exploitation or ill treatment of women” in Morocco.

But they criticized loopholes that would allow girls under 18 to marry and said a failure to define forced marriage would make it difficult to enforce a ban.

“How are women supposed to be protected when there is no definition of what is forced marriage?” said Stephanie Willman Bordat, co-founder of rights group Mobilising for Rights Associates.

“For some women, choice doesn’t exist. When you have family pressure, social stigma on single women, poor economics … all of these things – so what does forced look like?” Bordat told the Thomson Reuters foundation by phone from the capital, Rabat.

Nearly two-thirds of women in Morocco have experienced physical, psychological, sexual or economic abuse, according to a national survey.

A video of a young woman being sexually assaulted by a gang of teenage boys on a bus in Casablanca last year sparked outrage in the country.

According to the advocacy group Girls Not Brides, 16 percent of girls are married before the age of 18 in Morocco, where they are allowed to wed with judicial consent.

“More must be done to ensure girls are protected from the harmful consequences of child marriage,” said Matilda Branson, Senior Policy and Advocacy Officer at Girls Not Brides.

“The law also places the onus on girls to report their own marriages, who may face reprisals from their husband and family as a result,” she said in an emailed statement.

In 2014 Morocco overhauled a law that let rapists escape punishment if they married their victims. The change followed the suicide of a 16-year-old girl forced to marry her rapist.

Activists said Tunisia, which passed its own law protecting women against violence last year, had set a strong example. Unlike Morocco, Tunisia explicitly outlaws marital rape.

Suad Abu-Dayyeh, a Middle East expert with the global advocacy group Equality Now, welcomed the law as a “positive step” to protect women, but said implementation was key.

“We want to see the implementation of this law – forced and child marriages are very much happening in Morocco.”

Reporting by Heba Kanso @hebakanso, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit www.trust.org

Source: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-morocco-law-women/new-moroccan-law-fails-to-protect-women-from-forced-marriage-activists-idUSKCN1LS2SW