Local BBC Sites

Page last updated at 11:05 GMT, Monday, 13 September 2010 12:05 UK
Forced marriage: Sameem's story
Sameem Ali
Sameem's mother told her she was to be married at age 13

The North West has the highest number of cases of forced marriages outside London.

That's according to the government's Forced Marriage Unit who say 17% of the cases are from the region.

Sameem Ali who's from Moss Side was taken to Pakistan and forced to marry a man when she was just 13.

She's since written a book about her experiences called 'Belonging' in which Sameem recalls an unhappy childhood which went from bad to worse.


Abandoned by her parents, Sameem Ali spent her first seven years in a children's home in the Midlands.

One day, she was told that her family wanted her back. However, it wasn't the happy reunion she had imagined.

Her mother began to beat her and her unhappiness drove Sameem to self-harm. Desperately unhappy, she confided in a teacher which resulted in a visit from a social worker.

"After that I got the beating of my life," she said.

"I was beaten black and blue. My head bled, I was nearly unconscious actually and I wasn't given any dinner that night, I was just sent to bed."


Then, shortly after Sameem turned 13, her mother unexpectedly offered her a reward for all her hard work doing chores around the house: a holiday to visit family in Pakistan.

They said that my brother had paid them 50 quid each to come and kidnap me or my son by any means possible
Sameem Ali

She was excited: the colours, smells and sounds of a different culture excited her imagination.

"I was kind of happy again because I thought that telling the social workers must have worked: I'd scared them [her family] into actually being nice to me and I thought, 'Oh, we're going on holiday now'."

They arrived in a small village where there was no electricity and no running water. It was then that her mother told Sameem that she was there to marry a man twice her age.

"It first, I thought they were joking.

"Then I thought 'No! I'm only 13 and I can't get married'. I had only seen him once from afar by mother pointing to him and saying, 'do you like that one?' "

"I was rushed into a room. I was given a change of clothes. They gave me an old suit from out of a suitcase, it was red.

"They said 'this is the only red thing that we've got and you must wear it', so I wore that.

"They quickly brushed back my hair and the Imam walked in and said you have to repeat these words after me and so I sort of did.

Minutes later, my mother walked in and said I was married."


After attempting suicide in Pakistan, Sameem was told that the only way she'd be allowed back home would be if she was pregnant.

"They thought that if I had a British-born baby, then that would strengthen his case to come over to this country."

And so it was that Sameem returned to the family home, then in Glasgow, with a baby on the way.

She was still desperately unhappy. But some years later, a family friend from Pakistan came to stay.

Sameem felt she could confide in him and, with his help, she ran away to Manchester with her young son.

Then, one day, the police came knocking to inform her that they had just arrested three people with her address in their pockets and weapons in the boot of their car.

"They said that my brother had paid them 50 quid each to come and kidnap me or my son by any means possible."

Sameem said, if the police hadn't intervened, she was sure she'd have ended up dead.

"I felt cut off, absolutely cut off," said Sameem.

"I wouldn't have put anything past my family. They would have done anything to gain back that control."


Now happily married with two grown-up sons, Sameem has managed to forgive those who have caused her so much pain.

She even feels sympathy, rather than hatred, for her mother.

"She lived a very a controlled and sad life herself and so being brought up in that environment makes you do crazy things.

"I don't hate her and I don't blame her because blame and hate are two very powerful and negative words."

Adding: "I have forgiven everyone for what they did to me. I've been able to move on and tell my story and become who I am today."

Sameem has since written a book called 'Belonging' to share with victims like herself.

And, although she didn't receive any professional counselling after her ordeal, Sameem said writing about what happened was therapy enough.

"I started writing it down and what came out was lots of tears and there were more tears than words to begin with.

"And then I allowed myself to write it. It took me five years, but I'm very glad I did it. That was my therapy."

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific