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Ayesha Khan

2014 (Narrative Date)

The Global Slavery Index estimates that there were 136,000 people living in modern slavery in the United Kingdom (UK) on any given day in 2016, reflecting a prevalence rate of 2.1 victims for every thousand people in the country.

According to a 2018 report by the Home Office, in 2018, the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) gave advice or support related to a possible forced marriage in 1,196 cases. These figures include contact that has been made to the FMU through the public helpline or by email in relation to a new case. Since 2012, the FMU has provided support to between 1,200 and 1,400 cases per year.

At 18, Khan ran away from home, beginning a year-long cat-and-mouse chase with her paternal uncles.

I tried to disappear. First in Dundee, then in London, where I signed on as a homeless person. Each time I moved, my uncles tracked me down and threatened to kill me if I didn’t go back to my parents.

I was exhausted, and had nowhere to run, but the night I returned one uncle put his hands around my throat and hissed that he’d happily serve 20 years for killing me if I pulled a stunt like that again.

From the day we arrived [in Pakistan] I was bombarded with pressure to marry a man I was distantly related to on my father’s side: uncles and grandparents, calls from Scotland. I was made to feel as if this was something I had to do to compensate for the shame of running away.

The first time I saw this man was at the ceremony. On our wedding night he raped me. When I told my mother this the next day she said, “It’s the husband’s prerogative if he wants to have sex.” “He became controlling and violent. I had to dress in a hijab, behave like a good Pakistani housewife, even though I was tired from going out to work every day.

My mum told me to make my marriage work or to get divorced and marry an older man. She said, and I remember this clearly, “You’re damaged goods now. No one else will want you.” I slashed my wrists across, the way they show it on TV dramas, and I just sat there, crying. 

Narrative provided by Karma Nirvana and featured in The Telegraph in an article ‘Forced marriage: the survivors' tales’ by Sally Howard. Photo by Kate Peters.