And the horrible reality is that any group (SIOA), organization (AFDI) or people (me) that publicly offer help to Muslim girls in danger are “racists,” “Islamophobes,” and “bigots.”
‘I was sold as a child bride’, tells Aisha,” News. au, March 21, 2014 (thanks to Kenneth)
AT 16, I was a happy schoolgirl in South-East Asia, studying and playing cricket with my friends and sisters.
Then one day, a relative came to visit from Australia. She spoke sweetly, gave me cuddles and asked for a photograph of me to take home to her son.
Afterwards I discovered she wanted me to marry him.
“I don’t want to be married,” I cried. “I want to stay here and become a doctor.”
Mum wasn’t keen either. The son was nearly twice my age and had been married before.
But other family members came over to look at me and eventually Mum told me she couldn’t refuse. She was a widow and a diabetic, and not strong enough to stand up to everyone without bringing shame on the family.
I was very frightened.
“Don’t worry. It won’t happen for years,” Mum promised.
I was taken out of school with the promise I could continue my studies in Australia, and sent to learn domestic duties. I was also told to email my fiancé.
Everything happened very quickly after that. My visa was granted and, at 17, I was married and on a plane from South-East Asia to Sydney.
I still have those wedding photographs. In each, I am staring miserably at the floor. I couldn’t look at my husband.
My mother-in-law had told me to only pack presents for my new family. She promised to buy me a new wardrobe of clothes.
Instead, she gave me old hand-me-downs from her daughters — all twice my size — and demanded my jewellery, which she sold, keeping all the money for herself.
Nor did I get to continue my education as promised. Instead I was ordered to clean her house, fetch her meals and then clean the homes of her three daughters. I also had to look after their dog, even though I was very frightened of dogs.
I was given no money, not even to buy the most basic toiletries — I had to rip up old clothes to use.
Worst of all was my husband. He liked to watch porn. He watched it every night.
Afterwards he’d have his way with me and treat me roughly, ordering me out of bed afterwards at 3am to make him tea and toast. Exhausted, I still had to rise early the next morning to make breakfast and clean everyone’s houses.
I’m not afraid of hard work and I tried to be positive. But I didn’t receive a kind word from anyone, only yelling.
When I tried to explain my unhappiness to my husband, he told his family I had
complained about them. It made their behaviour to me even more cruel.
My husband became violent and kicked me. Although I did the cooking, I was only
allowed leftovers and my weight plunged to just 45kg.
The only being in that house who gave me any affection was the dog.
I knew I’d die if I stayed, but then I discovered something: I was pregnant. I was still only a teenager and very frightened, but my husband continued using me roughly and wouldn’t take me for medical check-ups.
No one in the family offered advice or support, and they made me continue cleaning right up to the day I gave birth.
The baby was born prematurely and needed to go into a humidicrib. The nurse told my husband I should stay in hospital with my daughter. A room for me to sleep and rest there would cost $20 a day.
“Are you crazy?” my husband exclaimed, and he told me I could walk the 30 minutes back and forth to the hospital. He wouldn’t even give me bus money.
My mother-in-law forbade me to leave the house until I had served her breakfast and done the cleaning.
“But my breasts are leaking milk,” I protested. She told me to stuff old clothes down my bra.
When I brought my baby home, it was worse than ever. Everyone yelled at her for crying, and sometimes we’d spend the night in the hot, dusty garage to escape their anger.
I was very weak and fragile, but my husband’s violence was worse than ever.
If I asked for money for essentials such as nappies, he hit and kicked me. He said I was never allowed to say no to him. One day, when I refused to go shopping because the baby had a fever, he knocked me to the ground and tried to choke me. The family simply stood by and watched until an uncle said, “That’s enough now.”
That day was my birthday. There were no happy returns.
Meanwhile, my mother-in-law went overseas to visit my mum. She presumed I had told Mum what I endured, but I hadn’t — partly because I was rarely allowed to make phone calls, but also because I didn’t want to stress her.
She told Mum: “I expect you know my son kicks Aisha, but she does very bad things. Yes, she has no money, but why does she need money with us to look after her?”
That’s when Mum realised she’d been fooled. “What have you done?” she cried.
“You said you’d be a mother to my daughter.”
Back at home, the violence intensified.
One time, my husband kicked me rightacross the bedroom. When I looked up, I saw
nothing but evil in his eyes. I think I may have died were it not for a relative who had
seen the violence and took me aside.
“Why don’t you call triple 0?” she asked.
“What’s that?” I asked, confused.
“It’s the police,” she explained. “They’ll help you.”
I waited until the house was empty and made the call. The police came and I picked up the baby and was taken to a refuge. I was so frightened, I wept the whole way. I had no idea where I was going, but the workers were very kind. They gave me the first cuddles I’d received since arriving in Australia.
The refuge helped me deal with the courts, learn to drive, get English lessons and handle money. Today, aged 25, I am living in Sydney, studying at college and hoping to have a career.
Sadly, although we’re now separated, my husband won’t allow me to take my daughter and go home [to my mum], but at least we’re alive.
As told to Beverely Hadgraft
Forced marriage is illegal in Australia. If you or anyone you know needs refuge or legal advice, call the Immigrant Women’s Health Service on (02) 9726 4044 or Women’s Health Victoria on (03) 9664 9300. Young people can also contact the National Children’s and Youth Law Centre on (02) 9385 9588.
*Name has been changed for safety reasons.