Naila Amin was married at the tender age of 14, and recounts how she endured physical and mental persecution in the name of ‘honor.’ She recounts the abuse she faced in her marriage, her will for survival, and how she uses her experience to help others that are in the same position. She has dedicated her life to raising advocacy and awareness on child marriage, forced marriage, and honor based violence. She now runs the Naila Amin Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to help girls that have endured similar experiences. This story was recorded in partnership with MALA and StoryCorps.
“We begin with me as a 4 year old child who came from Pakistan. My father wanted a better life for us, he wanted us to go to school. I came to America and I remember being called Hindu, and being called all these names because kids just didn’t understand my culture. I would be embarrassed if my mother, who wore the headscarf, would take me to school. As a child you don’t know, because all you want to do is fit in.
I remember I was in 4th grade and I had a crush on this Greek boy. His name was Leo something, some long last name, and I remember thinking to myself, “Why even look at him, Naila, when you know you’re gonna marry someone else.” Imagine what that’s like for someone in the 4th grade. So in October of 2004 I went to Pakistan. They said “Oh it’s your cousin’s wedding,” that was the trick to get me there, that we were going for my cousin’s wedding. Next thing you know, January 5 came along, and that’s the day my whole life changed.
A part of my soul was taken away from me. I was living with a man who I wanted nothing to do with. There was no feeling in the world like that. They built me a mansion, I had a pink marble bed, everything of mine was customized, beautiful, all the money in the world. But the man that I was laying next to in bed at night – I didn’t want to. I remember the first day of my wedding, the first night, I put a pillow in between us because I didn’t want him to touch me. He didn’t touch me or have any kind of sexual encounters with me… until on the 10th day I decided I can’t do this anymore.
He took my cellphone, he took everything.
I had a lot of money in gold, so what I did was – our house was down the block from his mother’s, so him and his brother and his wife, they were all getting ready, I was already ready, but in my mind I was gonna run away. I called one of my trusted uncles and he’s like “Everything’s gonna be okay,” and he came and he got me and he’s like “We’ll work it out.” When we got to Attock city – the main city where my aunt was living – my husband was there, my cousins, they jumped out of a car and they had AK-47’s in their hand. And I was like ‘okay, I’m gonna die today.’
I was so scared, it was just unbelievable. I remember I sat in the car, and my mother’s sister, she sat with me in the back. My husband was sitting right in front of me in the passenger’s seat, I was sitting in back of him, we were driving and he was cursing me, and he’s calling, he’s cursing my mother, and everything, and he’s like your mom is a hooker and this and that and you’re this, and you know, I wanted to kill him, literally kill him. And out of nowhere he turns around and he slapped me so hard that it knocked the daylights out of me. I was like I’m gonna die. Honor to them is everything. They will kill their daughter just to show faith in society. But that is not a part of Islam, nor in the Koran does it condone that. You know, honor violence, and not even forced marriages..
I came back and I was beat in front of the whole family. When you watch cartoons, you see them see stars if they bang their head; I never thought that was real until he was legitimately kicking me in my head. That same night.. In Islam, when a wife has her period, you cannot have sex. Even though I was on my period, he raped me that night. He beat me and then he raped me, that is the biggest insult. I remember he made me lay on the cement floor. In Pakistan, the houses are made of cement. He made me lay butt naked on the floor, and he said, he was a psychologist, and he said to me, “It’s your body but I have control over it.” He was playing mind games with me.
I feel like the first step is definitely education, awareness. I plan on going and talking in high schools this fall, and colleges, and kind of getting the girls at a young age. And it’s okay if you don’t want to get married, you know, it’s okay. That doesn’t mean you don’t love your parents, or your family, or you’re bad, because look at me now. Me and my parents are okay. They actually went to Pakistan yesterday, and I miss them a lot. No one can replace your parents, but at the end of the day you have to stand up for yourself. This is America, it’s 2015, we’ve been to the moon, why are we having forced marriages? Why should you be forced to marry someone?”