BBC NEWS, December 9, 2004
Marriages made in hell
By Nick Bryant
BBC South Asia correspondent, Islamabad
At an Islamabad women's refuge, with an address
cloaked in secrecy and a perimeter guarded
by barbed wire, 21-year-old Sharzia - whose
name has been changed to protect her identity
- broke down in tears as she described the
horror of her forced marriage.
It was to a man she had never met, who physically
and mentally abused her almost from the very
On her leg is a 10-cm (4-in) scar, an indelible
reminder of the day he attacked her with a
broken clay pot.
In her mind are the tortuous memories of a two-year
'marriage' in which she was threatened repeatedly
with death. Once, as she suffered an asthma
attack, her husband even took away her inhaler.
Then, as she gasped for breath, he threatened
to chop up her body and feed it to the dogs
roaming outside. Having broken her body, he
was trying to crush her spirit.
Born and raised in Britain, Sharzia was brought
to Pakistan by her parents two years ago, mistakenly
thinking she was attending a relative's wedding.
But it soon became clear that she, too, was
being married off.
He said to me he was going to kill, he wasn't
going to bury me. He said he was going to throw
my bits to the dogs
forced marriage victim
Though self-confessedly rebellious by nature
- something which her father found difficult
to cope with - Sharzia was willing to go though
with an arranged marriage, and was therefore
prepared to accept that her parents would choose
But on the night of the wedding, as the celebrations
started, she started to harbour doubts.
"Just before I went on stage I was given
a photo of him - and that's when I got really
upset," she told me.
"He wasn't my age, he was a lot, lot older
and I didn't want to marry him. I was happy
with an arranged marriage, but I didn't want
to marry him."
"I started crying," she continued.
"I didn't want to be there, I didn't want
to get married to this man. I wanted to jump
off stage and run away. But I couldn't for
my father's dignity and my father's pride."
An arranged marriage had become a forced marriage.
"Within a few days, he started knocking
me around," she says, "simply because
I wouldn't sleep with him. He hurt my leg,
bust my lip, he smashed a clay ornament into
"I really thought at this point, I wasn't
going to live. He just started pulling my hair,
knocking me around, throwing me around. I couldn't
Despite repeated protestations, Sharzia was told
she would have to remain with her husband.
One day, when she pleaded with her father as
they were driving in the car, he threatened
to crash the vehicle, killing them both.
"My father used to say it was my fault because
I had done so many bad things in my life, made
my parents so unhappy by putting them through
so much grief and stress."
Last month, Sharzia was rescued by a team from
the British High Commission, which managed
to identify the house where she was being kept
a virtual prisoner and arranged to pick her
She waited until all the male members of the
household were asleep and then managed to escape.
This year alone the British High Commission in
Islamabad has dealt with almost 100 cases of
forced marriage - a 20% increase over 2003.
The majority involved women, but in 20 instances
young men were the victims.
Often British officials manage to secure the
release of victims through negotiation with
the families or local authorities. When that
fails, they have sometimes had to mount court
In many instances, British Asian families wanted
to reinforce traditional regional cultural
values by sending their daughters back to Pakistan
to get married.
Often, though, the prime motivation is money
- since Pakistani men who marry British Asian
women are entitled to UK visas, the passport
to better-paid work and a higher standard of
It is not uncommon for fathers to sell-off their
daughters, such is the demand for ill-gotten
As part of an effort to help young people coerced
into relationships, British ministers are currently
considering whether to criminalise forced marriages.
Other plans include raising the minimum age at
which a foreigner can enter the UK as a spouse
from 16 to 18.
When Sharzia packed her bag to go back to Britain,
it took a matter of seconds.
She has a few clothes, a mobile phone and virtually
no money. Sometime in the future, she hopes
to reunite with her parents but right now she
is scathing towards them because they were
the authors of her grief.
"They weren't there for me," she says,
sobbing. "I know their hearts are in the
right place. When I needed them most, they
weren't there for me."
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2004/12/09 00:40:43 GMT
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