The following feature article from Berlingske Tidende concerns a teenage girl in Denmark who was coerced into converting to Islam and marrying her Palestinian boyfriend. Although the marriage was only an Islamic one, and not binding under Danish law, she remains unable to escape.
Many thanks to our Perth correspondent Anne-Kit for the translation, and to Henrik for the original tip:
“He’ll never let me go”
Threatened, beaten and persecuted: Although she wants nothing more to do with her husband, Danish woman M. cannot obtain a divorce following her Islamic marriage.
2nd February 2011
She was promised a big wedding with lots of guests. Instead her fiancé turned up at the wedding unwashed and unshaved. She knew he was being unfaithful. Under her hijab the bride felt just as dirty as the work clothes her groom had grabbed from the bottom of the laundry basket. The ceremony took place in a Copenhagen mosque. She was asked to repeat words in Arabic which she did not understand. She was given a gold ring and a Koran by the groom’s family. And then she was married according to Islamic law. She had just turned 17, and her ethnic Danish parents were opposed to the marriage.
Seven years later M. is the single mother of their child. She is still married according to Islamic law because her husband, from whom she has been hiding for several years, refuses to divorce her.
“He will never let me go. And as a wife I don’t have the right to divorce him. He has that right. If it doesn’t suit him I can’t do anything at all,” says M.
In the beginning they could not get enough of each other. After a long period of family disagreements M. moved in with her boyfriend. In his small flat the 15 year old girl was treated like a princess. Every day was full of surprises, little presents and dinners at expensive restaurants.
But soon the boyfriend’s Palestinian family began to stir. People were talking, they said. Slowly the parents started making demands.
“It started to go wrong when his parents found out that I wasn’t just some girl he was seeing. The fact that we were lovers and not married caused problems for them in relation to their faith. Their honour was at stake,” says M.
The boyfriend was given an ultimatum
The boyfriend was given an ultimatum by his father. Either they were to be married at once, or he must break up with her. And the demands kept coming. The wedding had to be Islamic. M. had to wear a hijab and must convert to Islam. After 18 months of pressure they gave in.
“I didn’t want to. The Islamic wedding ceremony meant nothing to me, and I am not married according to Danish law. But it meant something to them. In the end we gave in; we were sick of listening to them,” she says.
On the morning of their wedding the boyfriend was sleeping on the couch when three SMS messages arrived on his cell phone. M. wondered who they were from and sneaked a look. They were from two different girls. But when she confronted him with this he threatened to beat her up if she did not go through with the wedding.
“He said that I’d better not try to call it off; he could never tell that to his father. He threatened me with everything from a beating to death,” she says.
She knew that he meant it. Their relationship had evolved from love to regular threats of violence. Today she no longer remembers when he first beat her.
The relationship felt as if someone had pulled a net over her head. A net she could not escape. She could not breathe. And no-one would have heard her cries for help, even if she tried. Her husband convinced her that there were some people who were no good for her. She should stay away from them. Her social network disappeared. In the end he was all she had.
“I try to leave him. But I’m not allowed. He won’t allow it. He will not let me go. Even if there was only hatred left. It wouldn’t look good if he couldn’t control his wife,” she says.
Soon he decided that M. could not leave the apartment without him. Not even to buy cigarettes at the local deli a couple of hundred meters from their apartment block. When she tried to escape, he found her. At one stage she was even put in an apartment abroad. The message: She wasn’t even allowed to look out the windows. One day she did it anyway.
“I learned not to do that again,” she says.
Mostly he avoided hitting her in the face, unless he slapped her cheek. He went for the back of her head, her back and stomach, so it wouldn’t leave marks. Once she was punched and kicked so many times that there was blood in her urine. And even though she persuaded him to take her to the emergency ward he denied her treatment, because the doctor was male.
A life in constant fear
When she finally managed to escape she lived in constant fear. They had then been married five years.
“In the end I was so paranoid that even when I went supermarket shopping I checked out several escape routes. I could stay awake on coffee and cigarettes for six, seven, eight days running.”
Her husband was convicted for more than 100 death threats on SMS and message bank. For a period of time mother and daughter had police protection. But today she no longer wishes to live as a refugee.
“I don’t want to live a life of fear. I want to wear the clothes I like. I want to see anyone I choose to. And I want to go wherever I want to. I have learnt to live with the life I have. One day at a time. I am no longer afraid. I have realised that I can do nothing. I expect the worst but hope for the best,” she says.
For security reasons, however, she wishes to preserve her anonymity and not appear by name and face in Berlingske, although her identity is known to us.
There is no question of any new boyfriends, even though she is only in her mid 20s. No one is allowed to touch her.
“When someone touches me I panic; I freeze. I have no trouble chatting and flirting with men, but they’d better not get too close,” she says.
Nor will there be any more children. Even though she was conceived in a marriage full of hatred and violence her daughter is everything to her.
“I struggle with the thought that my daughter will one day have a boyfriend. More than anything I want to lock her up and throw away the key. Kind of like Rapunzel. I want so badly to protect her from my experiences. But I will just have to bring her up to teach her that with some people it’s best to stay far away from them. And hope for the best. There’s not a lot else I can do,” she says.
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Facts [from the article’s sidebar]:
Ethnic Danish girls as young as 15 marry their Muslim boyfriends in Islamic marriage ceremonies. The girls are minors and do not have their parents’ permission.
Previously, Berlingske have told the story of Christina Palshøj Schultz. She was 17 when she married her Muslim boyfriend in an Islamic ceremony — without her parents’ permission.
Yesterday we told the story of a 15-year old Danish girl who married her Koran teacher shortly after her conversion. The Copenhagen local authorities brought the case before the police, and the girl has volunteered to be placed in an institution, where she lives today.
Islamic marriage ceremonies are not in themselves legally valid in Denmark, according to the Ministry of Justice. But the girls enter into an Islamic marriage contract which includes a dowry and other things, and they have to live up to a number of practices and rules which, according to researchers, are far more binding than any traditional Danish marriage.
No one has any idea how widespread these marriages are.