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Human rights student reporter of the year on life after forced marriage

The winning entry in Amnesty International UK’s annual competition, in conjunction with the Observer and the NUS, is by Lauren Wilks of the University of Edinburgh

Parents, family, friends – I left everyone because he was after me and my daughter,” says Tehmina, explaining how she came to leave Pakistanin 2002 and claim asylum in the UK. “It was an arranged marriage, but when I married him he turned out to be another person. I was beaten and abused for 10 months.” After escaping, Tehmina was rejected by almost everyone in her family. While her father was sympathetic, he told her that she and her daughter no longer had a life in Pakistan. She received death threats from her brothers and the police ignored her cry for help, saying it was “her own matter”. “The situation in Pakistan is very difficult,” she says. “It’s impossible to live as a single woman or single mother … honour killings are everywhere.”

Within the UK, confronting the issue of forced marriage is not new. Campaigners have long called for greater attention to the issue; and in recent years policymakers have pushed aside claims of cultural difference and introduced a range of measures – aimed at both the UK and overseas – to work towards ending the practice. However, tougher laws and awareness campaigns, while important, fail to address the needs of those living in, or trying to escape from, a forced marriage. For women such as Tehmina, running away is not an end to the trauma. “It’s an uphill struggle; very often as bad as the forced marriage itself,” says Angela Voulgari of Saheliya, an Edinburgh-based organisation that supports black and minority ethnic women. Voulgari wants to see more intensive support to protect those trapped in and escaping from forced marriages. She says that fleeing a marriage can mark the beginning of another, more frightening chapter.

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