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Last Updated: Saturday, 2 February 2008, 14:35 GMT
Life devastated by forced marriage
The UK's first male-only refuge for those who have been forced into marriage is being considered. One victim tells of the dramatic effect the experience had on his life - and how he has come through it.

Forced Marriage Unit campaign poster
Imran Rehman now helps men who have suffered forced marriage

When Imran Rehman was 10, he was taken to Pakistan and found himself in the middle of an enormous family party.

He remembers being told to sit next to a little girl in a fine dress. He did not understand why, but he and the little girl were, jointly, the centre of attention.

They were showered with money and presents and they had garlands cast around their necks.

Imran said: "I was just paying attention to the food and the money. I didn't know what was happening. I just thought it was a party."

It was not until five years later - the year he sat his O-levels - that he was shown a photograph of that celebration - and he finally understood its significance. It had been his own engagement party.

The little girl was his five-year-old first cousin. She was also to be his wife - whether he liked it or not.

Locked up

"It made me feel sick, knowing that was my engagement. I went off the rails. I got into the wrong crowd, I got into fights, I got expelled from two schools," he said.

To get him to behave, his parents took measures that many people might see as extreme.

They sent him to Pakistan, telling him it was so he could see the area where they had been born. For a while, he says, "it was nice to be on holiday".

Then, one morning, he says, he was drugged, taken to a mosque in a deserted village, and imprisoned. Once there, he had shackles locked around his feet.

"I was kept in a room, locked up. I had to sleep like that. I even had to eat, go to the bath, toilet, shackled like that, for 15 days."

Emotional blackmail

With the help of friends, he was eventually able to find his way back to the UK.

When he got home, the only explanation he got from his family was it was his "rehabilitation".

You're a man, you don't cry - if you cry, you're not supposed to show your tears
Imran Rehman

The pressure continued, perhaps to a lesser degree, for years, until something happened that finally made up his mind up that he had to get married.

He said: "I was 24. I was working at Birmingham airport. I got a phone call to say one of my close relatives was extremely ill. I was the first person there, by their bedside. I said: 'What can I do to help?'"

His poorly relative told him that if anything was to happen to her, it would be his fault, for not going to Pakistan to get married. He says he was emotionally blackmailed, and he felt that he had no choice.

"So I went to Pakistan. I didn't want that on my head, you know," he said.

Family disowned

He married his cousin. But the marriage only lasted a month before Imran told his family it was over.

He was told he had just two choices: "Stay with your wife, buy a house, have kids, live your life. Or get disowned."

"So I left home," he said.

It was the beginning of a seven-year severance from his family. He says he drifted from job to job, drank too much and struggled to deal with his trauma.

"My family had disowned me. I just thought: 'I've got to stand on my own two feet and try and battle it out'. Which I couldn't understand how to do."

'Stressed out'

He eventually found a support organisation called Karma Nirvana. At the time, this Derby-based self-help group was only for women.

But they realised, through their dealings with Imran, that men were also vulnerable to becoming victims of honour-based violence.

Now, Imran works with Karma Nirvana as a support worker for men who suffer in the same way he did.

He says it is harder for men to seek help than women because men are not allowed to be open about their feelings.

Before, when I was alone, I used to feel like I was the only man who was going through it
Imran Rehman

He said: "You're a man, you don't cry. If you cry, you're not supposed to show your tears. It really stressed me out.

"I knew there was no support for me to go anywhere. Now, there is support out there for men. I encourage men to come forward.

"What I tend to do is I tell my personal experiences to the men I work with, male victims. And believe me, they do open up."

Imran now supports 36 men who have been victims of forced marriage or honour-based violence.

He says helping them get over their problems is a way to help himself to stay positive.

"It makes me feel good, you know? I know I'm not alone any more. Before, when I was alone, I used to feel like I was the only man who was going through it," he said.

Now he knows there are others who have gone through what he has been through. And he hopes they will all get the kind of support that will help keep them safe from their families.

SEE ALSO
Abuse and 'honour crime' probed
14 Jan 08 |  UK Politics
'Honour crime' meeting to be held
11 Jan 08 |  Lancashire
Hidden angst of 'trapped' teenager
11 Jan 08 |  Merseyside
Help for 'honour crime' victims
21 Nov 07 |  England

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