When Rukhsanna* was 14 her parents had told her that she was to be married to a cousin living in Pakistan in 3 years time. Rukhsanna didn’t take it very seriously as she thought maybe one day her parents would help her to choose a suitable partner but not really any time soon. She didn’t agree or disagree to her parent’s announcement and she soon forgot about the conversation.
At 16, Rukhsanna started a long-distance relationship with a young man she met through a friend, mostly contacting him on the internet. Her family found out about the relationship but reacted badly: for a few days Rukhsanna was kept at home while her family interrogated her about the relationship. While she was questioned, Rukhsanna was slapped across the face by her father and mother. They shouted at her, telling her she had brought shame to the family. Her mobile was taken from her.
Rukhsanna’s parents decided to move the marriage forward and told her she would go to Pakistan during the next school holiday. Rukhsanna told her parents she didn’t want to be married – she wanted to go to university and had plans - but they said she didn’t have a choice. Her father said he was responsible for organising her future and there was no need for her to stay to further her education after the holidays.
A few days later she returned to school and confided in a teacher about what had happened; the school then contacted the police (because of the physical assault) and Shakti Womens Aid’s Outreach Service for Children and Young People. Rukhsanna told the Shakti Outreach worker she felt in danger of being taken against her will to Pakistan and was scared about what would happen to her there. She wanted to leave home.
Rukhsanna was under a lot of pressure. Her faith, family and community were both very important to her but felt her community would support her father and mother’s wishes rather than hers.
Apart from a weekend job, she was not allowed social time out of school, making the thought of leaving very stressful; her father had locked her passport away and she did not have any saved money.
How Shakti helped Rukhsanna
Despite the very real risk of being taken out of the country, leaving home is not an easy option so Shakti helped Rukhsanna look at all her choices and possible consequences before she made a decision. We also worked closely with the police, social work and school to ensure Rukhsanna’s safety and needs were kept at the centre of any action and that other family members were not put at risk.
The Shakti worker also helped with Rukhsanna’s emotional needs, providing an essential ear for her to speak her mind freely and time and space to start working out the difficult emotions she was experiencing. We made sure that she could also be involved in discussions about her and that she was informed before any action took place.
Rukhsanna is currently living away from home and still trying to work out some differences with her family; she still feels though that her parents would have forced her into a marriage, despite them saying otherwise.