Life as a child bride

Day three of our #16Days of blog posts to raise awareness, show support and campaign against #violenceagainstwomen and we bring you a moving piece on the stark reality of life as a child bride. Child marriage is a stark reality that 15 million girls face across the world every year – that’s approximately 41,000 girls per day, 28 girls every minute or 1 girl every 2 seconds. It’s not something that happens someplace far far away, but still exists within our society. It is the individual voices who courageously share with us all this year their story, so that they can help change the social norms that enable forced marriage to continue. Do your part to help spread the message and fight to #endchildmarriage this November. #riseupbristol 

I vaguely remember my childhood. I was born in Wales and grew up in Grafton Road, Newport, South Wales. I was called Muna, the youngest of four sisters. Our father Ali was Arabic Yemeni and my mother Mary was British. What I can remember of my childhood was happy.

Mum would take us to and from school every day without fail, until this day. On 1st September 1971, she dropped us off to school in the morning kissing us goodbye and waving until we disappeared inside. Dad picked us up that afternoon. When we asked where she was, he told us she had just left and gone to stay with her parents in Birmingham. We were crying for mum, it was her 26th birthday the next day and she would never celebrate without us, but she didn’t return.

A year later, after a huge manhunt, dad was arrested and charged with mum’s murder. He was convicted of manslaughter and given 6 years in jail. Until this day, mum’s body has never been found, and we never believed at first that our father killed our mum.

All four of us sisters were taken into foster care by a loving family who had been friends with our parents. Dad did four years of his sentence and was released, and although we were happy and settled in our foster home, we were handed back to him. In 1977, dad promised us a fantastic holiday to his country, the Yemen. He had always told us how beautiful it was, that fruit trees filled the streets and we would be able to just open the window and pick fruit off the trees! We couldn’t wait to go.

On 28th May 1977, my 13th birthday, me and two of my sisters, Issy and Yas, travelled to Yemen. My oldest sister was a student nurse sitting her exams, so didn’t come. We were all so excited about our first ever holiday, but the excitement turned to fear when we landed in Yemen and realised this wasn’t a holiday!

When we got there we were separated. Yas at 14 years old was taken from us and sold to a friend of dads whom we had called ‘Uncle’ back in England. Issy and I were dragged away and transferred to the other side of Yemen. Later Yas was returned to us after she tried to commit suicide and her husband’s family decided she was “damaged goods” so they wanted their money back. Then Issy was sold; she was barely 17 and this man was 60. Issy begged our dad not to do this but he ignored her pleas. Issy committed suicide on her wedding night.

At 13 I was then married to an 18 year old who died 6 weeks after the wedding. Six months later I was married again, to the son of one of the wealthiest men in Yemen. I became pregnant straight away and had five beautiful children, even though my second marriage was one of horrific abuse and violence that almost ended my life many times.

It took me almost 17 years to escape the Yemen, and that was only because the British Embassy helped smuggle me out after I managed to run to them for help. I was a 13 year old child when I was taken, I knew nothing about child brides, forced marriage or early marriage, but now I do.

To even have a chance of eradicating child marriage we all need to speak up, whether we have been through this ourselves or fear for others who could be at risk, because if we stay silent how are other going to hear about what really happens in our communities?

***********

If you feel that you are being forced into a marriage, it is not your fault and there are people who can help you. If someone is at immediate risk ring the Police on 999.

Henna Foundation

The Foundation works nationally and internationally to advance the needs, concerns and aspirations of Muslim women, children and their families.

029 20496920

www.hennafoundation.org

Karma Nirvana

Aims to stop the scandal of forced marriage and honour-based violence.

0800 5999 247

www.karmanirvana.org.uk

Forced Marriage Unit

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office provides information about forced marriage and can intervene to make you safe.

0207 008 0151

www.fco.gov.uk

To find out more check out the Bristol Against Violence and Abuse website http://www.bava.org.uk/ 

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