It is hard to believe that teenage girls in the UK are having their romantic partners chosen for them and are being forced to conform to candidates that their parents propose, yet last week after speaking to a girl in my year, I was unpleasantly surprised at how common this actually is for teenage girls not only in her family but across the country.
Rashmita told me a story of her cousin Anita who was forced to pursue a relationship with a man she didn’t know:
“In some Pakistani communities family relationships, alliances and pride are more important than happiness and love. Appearance and connections are what is on the for-front of a lot of the older generation’s minds and therefore marriages are the main way families create this. My cousin Anita was a normal girl, doing a BTEC in hair and beauty at college. My Uncle however continually warned her about staying away from the boys in her school and wearing appropriate clothing. But this was hard for her because she had to work with boys that were studying the same course and Anita was a naturally expressive person so her clothes were a huge part of her. According to my Uncle, Anita was bringing ‘a great shame upon the family’ by not listening to her parents instructions about men about appearing ‘a pure woman’. In the summer 2016, Anita turned 18 and went on holiday to Pakistan. I thought it was just a vacation however when they returned, I realised it was just an elaborate plan to force Anita to marry a rich friend of her parents. My Uncle believed that this would ground Anita and turn her into a woman who he could be proud of. Anita fought hard for the right to fall in love and marry someone she chose but my Uncle said she would not be able to return to the UK until she conformed. It was awful having to watch my cousin be forced to marry someone she didn’t know however it was devastating to see her have to give up her dreams as a beautician as this was a profession her father disagreed with. Fortunately for me my parents were hugely opposed to my Uncles actions but I still fear the custom as it has been very common in my family.”
Anita’s story made me realise perhaps how we take our freedom to begin relationships and even friendships with the opposite sex for granted, as for Anita genuine connection was not an option. The UK’s Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) received 1063 reports of possible forced marriages between January and August 2015 and this is quite shocking considering that forced marriage is a direct violation to human rights.