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Tuesday, 6 November, 2001, 12:41 GMT
Tricked into a forced marriage
It took Halima Miah nine years to finally break away from her forced marriage.
Halima Miah says her rights were taken away from her.
As an 18-year-old, Halima Miah thought she was going to Bangladesh to look after her sick father.

When she arrived, not only was she greeted by her fit and healthy father, but she quickly discovered that her parents were going to force her into a marriage.

Halima tells BBC News Online how it took her months to escape back to England and an incredible nine years to get a divorce.


I am all for rights and choices, but I feel like I didn't have a choice

Halima Miah

Halima, now 29, with a new relationship and 10-year-old daughter, said she could not believe how she had been so easily tricked into marriage.

"As soon as I got to Bangladesh, my parents introduced me to this man and told me I was going to marry him," Halima told BBC News Online.

'Emotional blackmail'

"They told me he was the man for me. They said I had nothing in London waiting for me. They were using emotional blackmail.

"I was in a very small village with no electricity, gas or telephone. I thought my whole family must know about the marriage, but when I called my sister in England, she had no idea."

Halima said she told her soon-to-be husband that she did not want to marry him, but he dismissed her worries.

On the day of the wedding, her parents even signed the marriage certificate on her behalf - not an unusual deed as many girls in the region were illiterate.

"I never said 'yes', I would marry him, but because I had made a traditional gift with tobacco that was given to him, that was interpreted as my acceptance," said Halima.

'Mistake'

After making her protests, Halima said she decided to make the best of her situation. But she soon realised that this was a mistake when her husband demanded that she wore more traditional clothing than the trouser suits she favoured.


When I went to the British Embassy in Bangladesh for help, all I wanted to say was 'I need to get out of here'

Halima Miah

"He wanted me to cover my head. He was quite an orthodox Muslim, whereas I didn't practise my religion. We lived in a tin house

"When I went to the British Embassy in Bangladesh for help, all I wanted to say was `I need to get out of here'.

"My parents were outside the door and a woman speaking up for herself is unacceptable. I was being interviewed by Bengali men who frown upon you."

The Southall Black Sisters say agencies need more guidance to help victims of forced marriages.
Hannana Siddiqui

After three months of marriage, Halima said she finally found a way of escaping back to London. She said she needed to complete her education and get a job in order for her to support her husband's application to get into the UK.

Back home, she applied for an annulment to the marriage, but this was refused because it had been consummated. She then filed for divorce.

"I was told I couldn't do anything without his consent. When he finally came into the country after four years, I was told that our marriage certificate had become a legal document because he had entered as my husband," said Halima.

It took a further five years before Halima was finally granted a divorce. "It took my parents 10 minutes to force me into a marriage and nine years for me to get out of it," she said.

Bitter and angry

"I am so bitter and angry. I am all for rights and choices, but I feel like I didn't have a choice.

"I think the Government needs to listen and to support people like me. Once you are out there, you are stuck.

"There should be spot checks at airports and interviews with women to check that they are actually going on holiday."

Halima, now a financial investigator with the Serious Fraud Office, lives with her 10-year-old daughter Tazmin in Regents Park, London. She has only recently reconciled her differences with her mother, who she did not speak to for four years.


A lot of agencies turn women away because they don't quite know how to deal with the issue of forced marriage

Hannana Siddiqui
Southall Black Sisters
Hannana Siddiqui, of the women's group Southall Black Sisters, said Halima's story was not an isolated one.

She urged the Government to provide more funding to groups and refuges who look after women in Halima's situation.

"A lot of agencies turn women away because they don't quite know how to deal with the issue of forced marriage, or they think it is a cultural practise that has to be respected," she said.

"Alternatively, they act as mediators and reconcile women back into abusive situations."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Barnie Choudhury
"The threats range from emotional blackmail to death"
Baroness Amos, Foreign Office minister
"We are talking about a situation where one or other party is being forced into a marriage"
The BBC's Peter Allen
speaks to 'Nina', a young woman who fled her home after her parents tried to force her into marriage
See also:

16 Aug 99 | UK
Forced into wedlock
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