Category Archives: Building Bridges


As I’m sure you can understand it has been a very difficult time for me. I’m deeply upset by what has occurred and the treatment I’ve suffered. But I do not wish my parents to suffer any punishment for what has happened. I am their only child and they are still my parents.”

Humayra Abedin, a Bangladeshi national and doctor for the National Health Services, UK was held captive in Bangladesh for more than four months. She was bound, gagged and injected with what she believes were antipsychotic drugs before being forced into marriage by her parents.(1)

Dr. Abedin has lived in the UK since 2002. In early August 2008 she was duped by her parents into traveling to Dhaka claiming that her mother, Sofia Kamal, was ill. She was 32 years old at the time. Upon arriving at her family home, she was manhandled into the property by a number of people and immediately locked in a room. Her passport and other documents were confiscated and she was heavily guarded and drugged for the next few days. During this time, she somehow managed to send a few text messages to friends inSNN1507X2G_280_681031a the UK. On 13th August 2008, she was physically manhandled onto the street and into an ambulance which was parked outside of her parents’ home. In the ambulance she was still shouting and screaming for assistance and two of the people in the ambulance gagged her by placing their hands over her mouth to the extent that at one point she believed she would suffocate because she could not breathe. She was taken to a clinic in Dhaka where she was injected against her will with what she believed to be mood stabilizers and anti-psychotic drugs, despite her struggles. Her mother was present throughout.(2)

She was told that she would not be discharged until she confirmed that:-
(a) She would not be returning to the United Kingdom;
(b) That she would be resigning from her employment in the United Kingdom; and
(c) That she would disassociate herself from everybody she knew in the United Kingdom.

She remained at the clinic till 5th November 2008 when she was taken to an area called Jessore.

“By that time I was in a complete state of despair, my spirit was broken and I felt there was no means by which my position could be resolved. I felt helpless. I continued to be in the company of my mother and whilst my movements were not completely monitored as closely as at the hospital it was made clear to me that I was not free to leave the area or leave the property. I had no means of communicating with the outside world save that I secretly managed to access email which I managed to use on a couple of occasions”.(2)

On 15th November, 2008, more family members started arriving and she was told she was to be married the next day. The marriage was performed in an unknown location where among others 5 members of her family and the mother, sister, sister-in-law of the “groom” were present.

Abedin’s ordeal came to an end when she was tracked down by Bangladeshi police on 15 December, 2008 and taken to the supreme court, which sanctioned her immediate repatriation to Britain. Abedin has throughout said she does not want to press charges against her parents.(1)

The action was taken on behalf of a writ petition filed by Abedin’s cousin, Dr. Shipra Chaudhry and Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) organization.

Back in London, the UK High Court issued an order to prevent Dr Humayra Abedin being removed from Britain without her consent by her parents, her paternal uncle or the man she was forced to marry. The judge said that by granting an injunction against her family under powers enshrined in the Forced Marriage Act 2007 he hoped to send a strong message to all British communities among whom incidents of forced marriages occur.(1)

Marriages throughout history were arranged between families, especially before the 18th century. The emancipation of women in the 19th and 20th centuries changed marriage laws dramatically, especially in regard to property and economic status.(3) However, an arranged marriage is not the same as a forced marriage, in the former the spouse has the possibility to reject the offer, in the later they don’t. The line between arranged and forced marriage is however often difficult to draw, due to the implied familial and social pressure to accept the marriage and obey one’s parents in all respects.


The proportion of young men who are forced may be small (some say 15 per cent, against 85 per cent women), but they are also victims of this crime.(5)

Those who force individuals to marry often justify their behavior as protecting her or him as well as preserving cultural or religious traditions. Forced marriage cannot be justified on religious grounds: every major faith condemns it. Some commonly experienced reasons for forced marriages include:

  • The notion of “family honor”
  • Attempting to strengthen family link
  • Ensuring land, property and wealth remain within the family
  • Preventing relationships considered to be “unsuitable” for example outside a specific   ethnic group
  • Assisting claims for residence and citizenship
  • Controlling unwanted behavior and sexuality (including perceived promiscuity, or being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender)
  • The need to provide a carer for a person with mental and/or physical disabilities

No matter what the justifications, forced marriage is a form of abuse and breaches internationally recognized human rights standards.(6)

Experiences are same in 2016 as they were 35 years ago”, says Jasvinder Sanghera, CEO of Karma Nirvana, a British charity. Sanghera campaigns to raise awareness of forced marriages. 35 years ago, at age 14, her parents of Indian descent, showed her a photo of a man who she was to marry. Sanghera refused and was taken out of school until she agreed. Finally, at age 16, she ran away from home and as a result was disowned by her family. The catalyst for Karma Nirvana came 8 years later when Sanghera’s sister, who was also forced to marry, committed suicide by setting herself on fire.

Sanghera says, “All the cases we deal with at Karma Nirvana are British-born subjects, 65 percent of them are within south Asian communities – Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi and Hindu communities. The other percentages are a reflection of the communities in Britain, so we are seeing Kurdish, Iranian, Afghan, Somali communities. We are even now seeing white British women who marry into these systems, who have dual-heritage children who may become victims of forced marriages also.

One of the things we understand is that your marriage is going to be arranged for you and your parents will present it to you as: This is what we do, it’s part of tradition, it is part of our culture, even religion. Some of our victims have been promised from birth, especially with first-cousin marriage.

I have no issue whatsoever with the tradition of an arranged marriage for somebody who has the full and free consent to say yes or no. The person needs to be above the age of 16 and have the mental capacity to be able to make that choice. What I disagree with is where the consent has been removed, and it is clearly forced. Cultural acceptance does not mean accepting the unacceptable. Perpetrators hide behind tradition and professionals fear treading on cultural toes, they fear being  called a racist, and somehow they step back from it. What we need to do is make it clear: There is a very clear distinction of what constitutes an arranged marriage and a forced marriage. One is tradition, the other is abuse.”(4)





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Naila’s husband beat her publicly, dragged her by her hair around his house, raped her, and told her he owned her. “He took a chunk out of my soul that night.”

So are you happy to be getting married or you don’t want to?” I was hoping the answer would be the latter. She smiles and replies, “I didn’t think about that. I only know everyone gets married in my village when they are much younger. My uncle’s daughter got married when she turned five. In fact, I am late.”

He wanted a sexual relationship but I did not even know what that was at the time, and so he started beating me to get it. My hand was fractured, and also my eyes suffered injuries and were severely affected from the beatings. Very early on in the marriage, I fell pregnant twice. Both children died due to my extremely young age. My father is old now, I can’t hurt him by leaving so I will stay – it’s tradition. This is a tradition here in my village (in the Bannu district). Most females get married at 10-12 years old.”

My husband wanted ‘sex’ from me – but I could not understand what this was, what he wanted … so he forced himself on me. And he beat me up for trying to refuse.”

Nigerian senator marries a 13-year old Egyptian girl. You cannot marry an underage girl in Egypt, so he brought her to Nigeria where nobody will do anything.

Elham Assi, 13, bled to death hours after she spoke to her mother and just days after she was married to a 23-year-old man. According to police notes from the interrogation of the husband, he was upset because he could not consummate their relationship and felt under pressure to prove his manhood.

Assi’s mother said she also tried to persuade her daughter to have sex with her husband so as not to shame the family.
She looked like she was butchered,” she said about her daughter’s injuries.

My friend who had already found herself a husband convinced me into marriage. She told me it would be better if I got married like her, so that my husband could take care of my needs.’
But life after her marriage was not what she had expected. Not only was her new husband an alcoholic, he squandered any money he earned – leaving his child bride hungry.

My grandmother was upset I got married in the first place but didn’t know what to do. With the help of village’s Child Protection Committee, my grandmother helped me escape.

Women and girls who are forced to marry find themselves in servile marriages for the rest of their lives,” warned United Nations Special Rapporteur on Contemporary forms of Slavery, Gulnara Shahinian, on the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. “Nothing can justify these forms of slavery; not traditional, religious, cultural, economic or even security considerations,” the human rights expert underscored.(1)



Fullscreen capture 762015 12606 PMEach year, 15 million girls are married before the age of 18.

Child brides are often disempowered, dependent on their husbands and deprived of their fundamental rights to health, education and safety. Neither physically nor emotionally ready to become wives and mothers, child brides are at greater risk of experiencing dangerous complications in pregnancy and childbirth, becoming infected with HIV/AIDS and suffering domestic violence. With little access to education and economic opportunities, they and their families are more likely to live in poverty.(2)


Girls should marry young as it has been going on for generations. Society requires that traditions should be followed and society shames those who venture out of line.

Gender Roles
‘We keep a dog to watch the house,
A pig is useful, too
We keep a cat to catch a mouse,
But what can we do with a girl like you?’
Chinese poem. A Father’s words to his daughter.

In many communities where child marriage is practiced, girls are not valued as much as boys – they are simply seen as a burden.

Give away the daughter in marriage and reduce expenses. The younger the bride, lower would be her asking price or dowry. In communities where the bride’s family gets dowry, how best to earn some money than to give away the baby girl in marriage? Bringing a young bride home is like acquiring a servant to work around the house and the younger the better as they will be more malleable.

Marrying her off will keep my daughter safe!
Safe from sexual assault in crisis areas. Safe from getting into love relationships as that will lead to loss of honor.

Social Pressure & Harassment
The importance attached to a girl’s reputation and the fragility of that reputation means that a girl’s future can easily be damaged simply by rumors. Harassment of threats including threats of kidnapping or assault with little or no support from police or government leaves no option but to marry off the girls young.




(International Center for Research on Women)


Governments slow in boldly drafting laws to completely eradicate child marriages are more careful to save their vote banks. Clerics and religious leaders oppose lawmakers ensuring that such practices continue while claiming to protect moral and religious values. The poor remain poor and the girl child continues being the burdensome commodity she was always perceived as.

Shouldn’t this change?

16 ways of preventing and intervening in child marriages

16 organizations working to stop child marriages

Babatunde Osotimehin, M.D, Executive Director, UNFPA, sums up the ramifications of child marriage when she stated:
“Child marriage is an appalling violation of human rights and robs girls of their education, health and long-term prospects… A girl who is married as a child is one whose potential will not be fulfilled.”

…..And nations are robbed of this invaluable potential. Educating little girls is a necessary investment for a peaceful and poverty-free world. Until we give girls equal access to a good quality education, the world will continue to suffer from child and maternal mortality, disease and other byproducts of poverty.(3) And the vicious cycle will continue!

Change is not just the responsibility of governments and social organizations, it is our duty. Shift in attitude, pride in children irrespective of gender, respect for fellow human being and understanding traditions going beyond social pressures is the only way these pressures can be erased.

Teach your little girl it is okay to dream, show her by practice that she matters, trust in her potential, and give her wings; together societies can march forward.

Human rights is our right. It could be your maid, neighbor, family, someone from the community – SHARE YOUR STORY. Let’s build a community of trust and an environment of awareness.

Let’s rally for change. Let’s live!

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