Zena’s Story

story_thumb_child_girl3_238In my community the idea of privacy really doesn’t exist. Everyone knows everything about each other. Sometimes it feels like you have about 20 sets of parents. Everyone else always seems to know what’s best for you and where your life is going. 


My dad was the one who brought my mum over to the UK when they got married. Their parents had arranged the marriage. My mum said she learned to love my dad over the years and she was really happy to live in England. But she didn’t like that my dad wouldn’t let her work. My dad is really traditional and always says he thinks it’s terrible how English girls don’t respect their families. I can’t remember a time when mum and dad weren’t fighting about something. 


I love both my mum and dad but sometimes I feel lost because the traditions we have at home are so different from everything around me. Last year I cut my hair short because I wanted to be more like the other girls in my school. My dad got really cross and wouldn’t let me leave the house for three months, except to go to school. 


All that my dad ever talks about is the boy I’m going to marry. This boy doesn’t live here and I’ve never met him. I don’t want to marry him – I get scared thinking about it. Every year my dad talks more and more about this boy I will marry soon. 
My dad says that next summer we’re going on holiday to his country. Since he said that, the fighting between my mum and him has been really horrible. Almost every day when I get home from school there’s a row. I just go to my room and close the door, but I’m really afraid. I think their fights are about my mum asking my dad not to take my sister and me to be married. Sometimes I hear my dad hitting my mum, but my mum never talks about it. 


My dad is never in a happy mood anymore and shouts at me nearly every day. He threatens to lock me in the house and not let me see any of my friends. He says he’ll hurt me if I don’t marry the boy he’s chosen; he says I’ll shame our whole family if I don’t. I can’t concentrate in school and I don’t feel happy anymore. Things got so bad at home that I wanted to leave. But I didn’t know where I could go and I worried too much about what would happen to my mum and my sister if I ran away. 
I talked to a friend at school whose parents also believe in arranging marriages and not in ‘love’ marriages. She said that her parents also want to force her into a marriage. She told me she used to hurt herself to try to numb the pain. It felt so good to hear that I wasn’t the only one feeling so unhappy! My friend said that ever since she spoke to her learning mentor at school, she’s felt better. Her learning mentor suggested that she also speak to a local group who can help girls like us. 


We decided to go to that group together. At least I don’t feel so alone anymore. I’ve learned about my rights. Forcing someone into marriage is against a person’s rights. It can also be part of domestic violence. The people who work there told us that it happens to a lot of other girls and boys as well. They talk to me about what choices I have and that if the abuse gets worse at home, I can go to a refuge. They understand that I don’t really want to leave my family because I love them. They’re helping me talk to my dad’s sister and brother. Hopefully they can change his mind. 


I don’t want to bring shame on my family, but I know I want to make my own decisions in life. I want to be a doctor, so I’m working really hard in school and one day I hope to marry someone I fall in love with and who treats me well. Things are still difficult at home and I’m not sure how they’ll turn out, but I feel like I can talk to people who understand and hopefully they’ll be able to help.