Neelum Aziz visited Kashmir for the first time last year, the young British girl couldn’t wait to explore her family’s home village. But her parents had something else in mind.
Two weeks after arriving in Kotli – in the Pakistan-administered part of the disputed territory – Ms. Neelum was told she had to marry her cousin.
“[My father and uncle] took away my [British] passport, money, and other belongings and locked me up,” she says. “I screamed and shouted and kept on crying. My tears dried up, but my family elders did not listen to me and married me to a cousin of mine without my consent,” she says.
Neelum herself managed to escape her parents’ decision, taking advantage of this liaison. When she refused to marry her cousin and threatened to return to Britain, Neelum says the family elders locked her in her room. “I was kept there and provided meals. My elders would … try to convince me that it would be better for my family if I marry my cousin. It went on for almost 12 days, and then a cleric was called, and i was wedded to a
Eventually, Neelum sent a letter calling for help to the British High Commission in Islamabad. Within a few days, British officials learned that Aziz was already married and being detained against her will.
Neelum appeared in high court May 2 in Muzaffarabad, the capital city of Pakistan-administered Kashmir. With help from the British High Commission, the chief justice ordered her release. “If I am sent back to [Kashmir], I fear they will kill me,” Ms Neelum told the court. “I am told not to speak the truth otherwise I will be shot,”
Neelum’s story is only the most recent example of hundreds of young girls who become victims of their families’ desire to preserve an age-old tradition.
According to human rights activists, 250 girls like Neelum – daughters of British citizens from Pakistan – were forced into marriages with relatives in 2002 alone.
For many Pakistanis living abroad, sending their child to marry in the home country is a sure way to preserve culture and lineage.
But for many of the girls themselves, who chafe at harsh parental control after relishing freedom in their adopted country, this clash of cultures is a breach of fundamental human rights.
It’s a cultural clash that diplomats and law- enforcement officials find difficult to resolve, because it takes place in two separate countries and legal systems.