Every day, approximately 25,000 girls become child brides, leaving many without basic freedoms and subject to severe and sustained harm, including domestic abuse, marital rape, and other forms of violence.
Through our Forced Marriage Initiative and as a member of the Girls Not Brides Global Partnership to end child marriage, the Tahirih Justice Center is helping to lead efforts to address the urgent and emerging problem of forced marriage in the United States, including directly representing teenage girls facing or fleeing forced marriages.
Muna,* one of our clients, shares her story in her own words.
“As a young girl growing up in Yemen, I was lucky that I was able to go to school. My father often supported my mother’s views and she desperately wanted her only daughter to have an education. That all changed when I turned 13.
My uncles arranged for me to marry their friend who was 50 years old and already had one wife. My father’s brothers were rough men who were very rich and did not take “no” for an answer. Their pressure became too much for my father to bear and he agreed to the marriage, despite my mother’s protests. During this time my mother became ill with breast cancer and the stress of these arguments took its toll on her health.
Each time I saw my uncles they said things like, “you will be married soon.” They referred to their friend as my “fiancé” and sometimes “husband.” I then realized that the marriage was soon approaching and I was stuck. If I ever spoke back to my uncles, they would surely have beaten me. I was destined to be a housewife at age 13.
Meanwhile, my mother arranged with my father to get treatment for her breast cancer in the United States. In the middle of the night before she was to leave, my mother snuck me out of the house with her and we managed to flee Yemen.
Once in the U.S. my mother’s treatment did not work. She passed away when I was 14. Although I was already in school and living with my mother’s sister, I was at risk of deportation. My father and uncles called me repeatedly, demanding that I return to Yemen to fulfill their marriage promise and uphold the honor of the family. When I said I wanted to graduate high school and go to college, my father became very angry and said “you will come back, I will make sure you come back!” Then he hung up the phone. I was terrified that I would be forced to return to Yemen and never have my own life. My dreams of continuing my education and becoming a doctor were over. I grew so depressed that I tried to kill myself.
When I came to the Tahirih Justice Center, I only had days before a hearing at an Immigration Court that was seeking to deport me. In partnership with my Tahirih lawyers, my aunt and I decided to pursue an application for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), a form of immigration relief available to unaccompanied minors who have been abused, neglected or abandoned by one or both parents. SIJS required us first get an order from a family court finding me to be abused, neglected or abandoned my by father. As I was turning 18 in less than a month, it was important I got this order before my birthday. My aunt and I worked with the Family Law Attorney at Tahirih to get this order on an emergency basis. Once we got the state order, I worked with a staff immigration attorney to complete my application for SIJS, which was later granted. I now have a Green Card, giving me permanent safety from my abusive father and the threat of my future husband’s violence in Yemen. I am so thankful to the Tahirih Justice Center for helping me escape a terrible fate. I now look forward to continuing with college and pursuing a career as a doctor.”
Our work helping courageous women and girls is only possible with support from individuals like you. As we celebrate this holiday season, we are grateful for your support and hope that you will consider helping to make more victories, like Muna’s, possible in the year to come.
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