A 13-year-old British schoolgirl facing a forced marriage to her cousin in Pakistan has been dramatically rescued, it can be revealed today.
The wedding of the pretty, dark-haired child had been arranged secretly by her father – but was halted at the 11th hour before she was flown back to the UK last weekend.
The girl’s plight emerged when her mother sent a text message begging for help to a neighbour back in England.
The girl’s 40-year-old mother told the Mail yesterday: ‘I messaged my neighbour in alarm because my child was about to be married to a grown man on the orders of her father.
‘We went to Pakistan last August on a family holiday. When we got there, I found out my husband had tricked us both.
‘He abandoned us, left us with his relatives and returned to England. His family took over our lives and his sister said that my daughter was to be married to a 19-year-old cousin, even though she is a child. I was desperate to save her. My violent husband had destroyed my mobile phone with a hammer. He gave me no money when he left us and gave our passports to his family.’
It was in late October that the mother made her desperate plea for help. Crucially, the neighbour she contacted – who lives near the family’s semi-detached house in the Home Counties – belonged to a women’s anti-abuse charity, Jeena International, which sounded the alarm to British police, social workers and the Government’s Forced Marriage Unit.
Officials at the British Embassy in Pakistan were called and, after several weeks, persuaded the 52-year-old father’s family to return the passports. Lawyers in England were brought in to advise the mother, and in December a London court ruled she and her child must be returned to Britain.
A court order stating that the girl was in danger of a forced marriage was issued to Interpol, which alerted airports in case the child was spirited out of Pakistan by her father’s relatives.
While extreme, her case is not an isolated one. Britain’s Forced Marriage Unit investigated 297 cases in 2022, almost half linked to planned weddings in Pakistan. Some 30 per cent of victims were under-age children, and often British citizens.
‘In Pakistan, she did not go to school for five months,’ says the girl’s mother, who cannot be named to protect her daughter’s identity.
‘She was kept inside, and I think she overheard what was being planned for her. I believe she was frightened. She has told me that never wants to see her father again.
‘My daughter, who is intelligent, good at schoolwork and has lots of friends in England, was excited to go on holiday to Pakistan. Instead, she was nearly married off to an adult in a country she hardly knew.
‘The cousin was my husband’s sister’s son. In Pakistan, although child marriages still happen, the legal age for a girl to wed is 16. She only knows a British way of life.’
The mother and daughter have returned home to an empty house because the father sold all their furniture over Christmas.