It is estimated that 21% of girls in Pakistan are married before the age of 18. Child marriage in the country is connected with tradition, culture and custom. It occasionally involves the transfer of money, settlement of debts or exchange of daughters sanctioned by a Jirga or Panchayat. The government have recently taken measures to reduce the occurrence of child marriage by amending the Penal Code in February 2017 that would see offenders face a minimum of 5 years in prison. However, that same year, the National Assembly rejected the Child Marriage Restrain Act that would have increased the legal age of marriage from 16 to 18 years old nationwide.
Azra was 17 years old when her father decided it was time for her to get married and sent her from her home in Germany to Pakistan. When Azra explained that she was too young to get married, her father got angry and continued to pressure her. Azra was able to escape her situation when she confided in a family member who helped her secure safe accommodation in England with NGO Ashiana.
I am a young Pakistani girl now aged 17. I have lived most of my life in Germany. In 2008 when I was sixteen I was sent to Pakistan after having failed my exams. My father decided to send me to Pakistan on the pretence that I was going to visit my mother but then he refused to let me go back to Germany.
After five months my father also decided to join us in Pakistan. Within one week of his arrival, he told me that he had found me someone to marry. The young boy was one of my father’s friend’s sons from a rural village.
I explained to my father that I was too young to get married but he was very angry and accused me of bringing shame and dishonour to the family. My father told me that he was ashamed of me because I had failed my exams. To add to my heartache a few days later my father divorced my mother and threw her out of the family house. I felt responsible for this and it made me feel ill and stressed. I knew things could get a lot worse.
My brother and sister were also summoned to Pakistan by my father and I realised that this must be to do with the wedding. I wanted to see my mother and decided to go and visit her; she was living with one of her relatives. When I was with her she received a phone call from her brother and sister. They were putting pressure on her to go back home. Her brother even threatened to kill her. I had the full support of my mother, she didn’t want me to get married at such a young age but I was very scared about what would happen to me and what they would do to my mother. The family kept putting pressure on me to accept the proposal for marriage.
I attended a wedding where I met some of my mother’s relatives who were from Britain. I was so desperate and confided in one of them. I explained about my current situation and asked him if he could help me to escape. I told him that I had British passport so he decided to help me. He gave me the British High Commission telephone number and I contacted them. Someone from the High Commission met me and took me to an unknown location. I stayed there for three weeks until my mother’s relative tried to find accommodation/safe place for me in Britain. Three weeks later, he had arranged accommodation for me with Ashiana. I arrived in Britain and was taken to Ashiana.I was supported by them emotionally and also practically, they helped me to access to education and benefits. When I was ready, they supported me to find my own accommodation. I continue to study and now look forward to my future.
Narrative provided by ASHIANA