Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Forced marriages in England

I was forced to marry my cousin - it's normal in my culture, but SO WRONG

Disgusted by her arranged marriage to a cousin - a suitor found for her by her father - she has fled her family home and now, fearful of reprisals, lives under police protection.

Khaleda's story makes shocking reading for anyone who is under the misguided belief that such marriages do not regularly go on in Britain today.

For Khaleda, who was born in Britain and took GCSEs and A-levels at her British school in the hope of becoming a teacher in this country, was forced by her father to go to Pakistan and marry his cousin - a man 20 years her senior, who spoke no English and whom she had never even met.

And according to Khaleda - who today, having escaped "the marriage from hell," lives in hiding with her British partner, Phil - she is far from alone.

She says: "Virtually every Asian girl I have ever met has an arranged marriage and the vast majority of them are to their cousins.

"It is well known within the community that such marriages do produce deformed babies. No one talks about it, but it is one of the reasons why I found such a marriage to someone so closely related to myself to be so very repugnant.

"Just before I was forced to marry I heard of one of my cousins who'd been forced to marry her auntie's son.

"They had a baby daughter who died and when they asked doctors why, they were told it was because of inter-breeding. They were told the parents were too closely related to have a normal baby.

"And this was just one of many instances I would hear of. Anyone who thinks it doesn't happen is in denial. As I know from the most painful and personal experience, it is barbaric and unnatural.

"Marrying someone who is related to you - and being forced to do so - goes against all your natural urges. It is not racist to tell the truth. What I cannot understand is why it is allowed to go on in this country at all."
Khaleda went into hiding in London. Since then a friend of Phil's has been threatened by thugs, who said they'd put a gun to his head because he wouldn't reveal the couple's whereabouts.

Consequently, today, they live under police protection, their flat alarmed to alert the local police station.

"While I know I made the right decision to leave, I have lost all my confidence and I am frightened that a relative will see me and find out where I am, and there could be reprisals," she says.

"Sometimes I just sit and cry and I've since been prescribed anti-depressants by my GP.
"Even as a Muslim I have no idea why families want to intermarry like this. I can only think it is to keep wealth within the family. But unless this practice is outlawed, more young Muslim women like me will have their lives ruined."
"I desperately want a divorce but I am too frightened to make contact," she says. "And as for my career, well, I am too scared even to pursue my dream as a teacher."

And so another young Muslim woman's life is ruined by this outdated practice. Just how many more babies will have to be born deformed, or even dead, before it is finally stopped?

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