Naila Amin was a child bride in Pakistan who was betrothed to her first cousin when she was only 8 and eventually was made to marry him at the age of 13. Naila faced abuse at the hands of her parents in her initial years and after marriage faced constant abuse by her husband. This interview sheds light on her story. She tells us about her experience of forced marriage, the abuse she endured, and her eventual escape from the marriage.
Governor Andrew Cuomo has recently signed a bill into law raising the age of marriage consent to 18 in New York. The law is called “Naila’s Law,” and it went into effect earlier this month.
In the year 2020, there were an estimated 285 million child brides in South Asia. About 59 percent of girls are married before the age of 18 in Bangladesh, 27 percent in India and 18 percent in Pakistan, according to data from Girls Not Brides. The Women’s Refugee Commission says South Asian families force their daughters into child marriage as it is perceived to be the best means to provide economic and physical security.
Naila Amin lived in Baldwin, New York. Upon finding out that she has a boyfriend in high school, her parents beat her up. It is then that the Child Protection Services got involved and eventually Naila ended up in the Foster Care System. The system traumatized her to the core and she eventually escaped from it and came back to her family. She missed them and wanted to be with them rather than being moved around foster care to foster care. It is around that time her parents decided to take her to Pakistan where she was forcefully married off to her cousin who was 28 years of age whereas she was only 15.
The goal was to eventually sponsor her husband and get him to the US with her.
Misha: How could you sponsor a fiancé to the US when you were only 13 years old? Were there no questions asked?
Naila: To sponsor a fiancé you can be any age whereas to sponsor a family member you have to be 21 years old.
According to reports, at the time Naila sponsored her spouse there were 5,556 approvals for those seeking to bring minor spouses or fiancées, and surprisingly 2,926 approvals by minors seeking to bring their older spouses. This data is mind-boggling to say the least. We asked Naila how her marriage was like. She shared with us that she was beaten constantly by her then husband Tariq, and she was raped multiple times. There was constant physical as well as mental abuse. She was in Pakistan for roughly 5 months where she tried to escape numerous times but failed. Every time her ex-husband would find out and confine her to the house. He had taken away all her rights, she did not have a phone, a passport or any means of contacting anyone outside of the house. Eventually one of her uncles understood what she was going through and managed to help her contact her social worker (who was assigned to her when she was in the foster care). It was through that link that she was able to be rescued. Her mother was arrested as soon as she landed at JFK.
Mishi: How did you finally escape?
Naila: After three months of marriage I was rescued by the U.S. Embassy and was brought back to New York, where I was no longer considered Tariq’s wife.
In the year 2018, Naila helped New Jersey raise the minimum marriage age to 18, making it the second state in the United States to do so.
“I emailed every assembly member and every senator in New York state with my story and said please support this bill,” Naila shares. “I think it was about 150 assembly members and it took me days, but I did it. We can’t let this happen to our children anymore.”
Mishi: What does Naila Amin want to do in future?
Naila: My ultimate goal is to help all the survivors I work with to achieve full financial and emotional independence. Naila Amin Foundation came to being in the year 2016. Our goal is to help women suffering from abuse and providing them a space to grow.
I eventually want to set up a shelter in Pakistan where women can find a safe place if they are in a violent and abusive relationships. I want to continue my fight for equal financial rights for women if they are getting a divorce. The need to create social awareness in the community is imperative and I want to continue educating everyone around me regarding these topics and issues.