MUZAFFARABAD, 18 November 2013 (IRIN) – From a distance, Jalila Ahmed* and Nabila Ahmed* look like ordinary village girls in their late teens, shopping at the local bazaar in a suburb of Mirpur, in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
But move in a little closer, and the differences are more obvious: they struggle to communicate with the vendors, sometimes giggling between themselves as they try to find a name for a particular vegetable or herb. When they speak to each other, they do so in English, with an accent closer to Bradford than Bahawalpur. But they are careful, because they have been told not to talk to each other.
The two teenagers, distant cousins, say they were both forced into marriages a year ago, after being brought to Mirpur from the UK to “attend a family wedding.” It was only after they arrived in the city that they discovered the marriages they were attending were their own, both to distant relatives.
undreds of cases of forced marriage are thought to take place annually, involving British nationals married against their will in Kashmir, particularly in and around the industrial town of Mirpur. Since the late 19th century, Kashmir has had a large diaspora – estimated to be around one million – with many communities concentrating in British cities like Bradford, Glasgow and London. To preserve their culture and traditions, some families favour sending their children – particularly daughters – back to Kashmir.
Campaigners say such marriages are cruel, leading to “murders and chaos”, either as couples fail to get along or when young women resist. Shafilea Ahmed, 17 years old at the time of her murder nine years ago in the UK, was the victim of one such crime, which made headlines when her parents were brought to trial.