Forced Marriage Awareness: The secret horror of summer holidays for hundreds of girls

For some British girls, the next few weeks could spell the end of their freedom

Shafilea Ahmed was a bright, promising teenage girl. She had dreams of being a lawyer – dreams she would have realised by now had her tragic life not been cut short.

Shafilea, who lived in Warrington, was caught between two clashing cultures. She wanted to wear fashionable clothes, hang out with her friends and choose her own boyfriends – behaviour her parents could not tolerate. Shafilea was punished brutally and repeatedly for going against the family’s ‘honour’ and in the end, keen to get the ‘problem’ of Shafilea married off, they took her to Pakistan, where she was pressured into marrying an older cousin.

Obviously aware that Shafilea would resist, her parents actually drugged her for the flight and once in her family’s village in Pakistan, Shafilea managed to escape the marriage by drinking bleach. It was a desperate act and left her with a serious throat injury.

Shafilea told people about what was happening but shamefully, she didn’t get the help she needed. Terrorised by her family, it’s impossible to imagine what day to day life was like for her. Finally, frustrated by what they saw as their daughter’s shameful lack of cooperation, her parents Farzana and Ifthikar Ahmed murdered Shafilea at home. They suffocated her by stuffing a plastic bag in her mouth. Her sister later explained how she had watched Shafilea kick her legs as she struggled to breathe, her eyes wide with fear. It took nine years for this terrible crime to come out and in 2012, her parents were sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 25 years.

Shafilea’s story is the starkest possible example of what happens in some families when their code of so-called ‘honour’ is broken. Every year, thousands of British girls are taken abroad to be forced into marriages against their will. And the summer is a peak time as families take advantage of the long summer holidays. Many victims are told they’re simply going on a family holiday to visit relatives when in fact a wedding has been planned. Last year, the Forced Marriage Unit dealt with 1,302 cases but this is the tip of the iceberg – worldwide, around 14 million girls are forced to marry early or against their will.

Once abroad – often somewhere remote – it can be impossible to escape and that’s why the Forced Marriage Unit is highlighting the issue this week. They’ve come up with a checklist – questions you should ask yourself if you suspect someone you might know might be at risk of this terrible crime. And make no mistake – it is a crime. Last month, new legislation brought in by Home Secretary Theresa May made forcing someone into marriage against the law, punishable by up to seven years in prison.
A link to the article can be found here.