When Payzee Mahmod was married at 16 to a man nearly twice her age she didn’t understand the words spoken during the Islamic ceremony – and nobody thought to translate them for her.
The teenager, who loved fashion and pop music, was preparing to start college. “I had just finished school and the idea of not wearing a uniform was exciting to me,” she remembers. “Instead I found myself trussed up in a wedding dress, with elaborate jewelry, feeling like a sale item at an auction.”
Naively, she had packed her Britney Spears posters to decorate her new bedroom. It was only later, alone with the groom in a hotel room, that her new reality dawned on her. He became violent when his advances made her flinch, unplugging a phone and throwing it at her face. She locked herself in the bathroom and called her parents.
“I asked, ‘When are you picking me up?’ They were angry and told me to go to sleep. They’d left me alone with a stranger and I didn’t know what he’d do.”
Last week a television drama aired about the brutal murder of Payzee’s sister, Banaz, in a so-called “honour” killing in 2006, with 4.3 million viewers tuning in to watch the first episode. The 20-year-old was targeted by her own family for leaving her abusive arranged marriage and pursuing a relationship of her choosing.
Keeley Hawes stars in ITV’s Honour as the detective brought on to the case following a string of shocking police blunders. Five men, including Banaz’s father and uncle, were later convicted of her murder.
Payzee, who was born in Kurdistan and came to the UK at the age of 11, said: “There has been a lot of interest in the drama but what has been completely overlooked is the fact that Banaz’s story started when she was forced into a child marriage to a stranger and there was no law to protect her.”
Now as a campaigner for IKWRO Women’s Rights Organisation, the 33-year-old is speaking out against child marriage in the UK. She and other survivors are supporting a 10-minute rule bill due to be presented in parliament this week. It will call for the removal of what has been called a loophole that allows 16- and 17-year-olds to marry in England and Wales with parental consent.
It comes as charities warn that coronavirus is exacerbating the hidden scandal of child marriage in the UK, after new data revealed that referrals from professionals plummeted during lockdown.
There were 2,377 contacts made about a child marriage to the UK’s national forced marriage helpline in the two-and-a-half year period to this September – with the youngest victim just seven. The majority of cases, 66%, represented those aged 16 and 17.
While reports of “honour” abuse and forced marriage surged during lockdown, the charity Karma Nirvana said that calls relating to children fell dramatically, sparking concerns that girls were struggling to seek help without support from teachers.
Read more here.