She grew up like most teenage girls in Britain – coveting the latest fashions, experimenting with make-up and hanging out with her mates after school.
Her Muslim parents, who ran a shop, were respected members of the community. Ayesha, whose name we have changed to protect her identity, was always encouraged to follow her dream of becoming a police officer. But immediately she turned 18, she was taken on a family holiday to Pakistan – and her carefree life would never be the same again. Days after arriving, she was forced by her father and two uncles into marrying a stranger.
Terrifyingly, it led to her being trapped in a marriage for four-and-a-half years, during which she was routinely raped. When she dared to complain, she was threatened by her uncles. And when she tried to flee, they tracked her down and tried to kill her. Ayesha eventually escaped, and today bravely tells her story to expose the growing problem of forced arranged marriages that is sweeping our towns and cities.
Each year 10,000 take place in the UK, and last month a shocking ITV documentary caught 12 Muslim clerics agreeing to marry off girls aged only 14. Those youngsters who put up a fight often fall victim to honour-based violence, which can end in murder. even now Ayesha lives in hiding to protect herself.
As part of her campaign to raise awareness, she works with the police to help support other victims. Ayesha, now 36, says she enjoyed a “pretty normal school life”. She adds: “My parents were strict about not being allowed to mix with boys, go clubbing, have sleepovers or bare my legs. But apart from that I had a relaxed upbringing.” She reveals how aged 17 she begged to be allowed to live in a flat-share while attending college.
“My parents finally gave in,” she says. “I went to the pub, had a drink and smoked, but didn’t go off the rails. Then things started to get weird. “My uncle started turning up on my doorstep, saying I was bringing shame on our family. He said that if I ever left, he had a network of people and he would find me and kill me.
“I didn’t want to live the life of an Asian Muslim girl. I was British and I wanted to be just like everyone else… so I ran.” But her family used a series of tricks to find her. “First they reported me to the police for theft,” she says.
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