Naila Amin became engaged when she was just 8 years old. Picture: Naila Amin
Naila Amin became engaged when she was just 8 years old. Picture: Naila Amin

‘I was engaged at 8, married at 15 then repeatedly raped'

"It might be your body but I own it," the 28-year-old told his child bride before he raped her on the cold, concrete floor.

It would be the first of many rapes the teenage Naila Amin had to endure at the hands of her husband, who was one of her relatives, 13 years her senior.

Naila Amin ... almost a quarter of a million children have been legally married in the US since 2000. Picture: Naila Amin
Naila Amin ... almost a quarter of a million children have been legally married in the US since 2000. Picture: Naila Amin

Naila recalls how at just 15, she had already been engaged for eight years - and had undergone two Islamic religious marriage ceremonies - all against her will.

Her living hell started when she was just eight years old and attending a family wedding.

The young New Yorker saw some girls giggling and pointing at her. "Don't you know what happened last night?" they said. "You were spoken for - now you're engaged".

Young Naila was stunned - how could her parents do this? Why didn't they tell her?

Naila asked her parents and they confirmed she was to be married.

She returned to her elementary school in Queens, New York, in a state of shock.

Naila remembers staring at Theo, a young boy in her class - the first boy she ever liked - before telling herself: "Stop. What's the point - you're engaged now."

Bitter, Naila began to rebel against her strict Pakistani upbringing.

She stopped wearing her headscarf and would borrow western clothes off her neighbours and change into them on the way to school.

Picture: Naila Amin
Picture: Naila Amin

At 13 her parents sent her to Pakistan to do her "nikah", an Islamic marriage, where she was dressed in a traditional bridal gown.

On her return home, her father applied to legalise the marriage and apply for a spousal visa for her husband with US authorities.

Naila remembers signing some paperwork but was sure officials would notice her age and throw the application out.

They did not. At 14 she could legally marry with parental consent, as 25 states have no minimum age requirement for marriage.

Naila continued to rebel and even started dating an American boy her own age - until her furious father found out and beat her so badly she was taken into care.

Naila at Disneyland Picture: Naila Amin
Naila at Disneyland Picture: Naila Amin

A life of slavery in Pakistan

Eventually at 14 she was sent from New York to Pakistan, where she began her hellish marriage.

"My actual wedding day was January 5, 2005 and I had just turned 15," she said.

"I had done the 'nikah' before but they had done that just for immigration purposes and hadn't done it right so it didn't count.

"My wedding day was really scary. It was so bad.

"I was so miserable I didn't want my mother to hire makeup artists or anything. I did my own bridal makeup.

"I even put a pillow in between us the first night so I didn't have to touch him.

"It was basically a life of slavery in Pakistan.

"I was afraid because I had slept with my American boyfriend so I wasn't a virgin - luckily I was on the last days of my period when we first had sex - so he thought I was a virgin otherwise he would have been mad.

"Over there I had to take his shoes and socks off, I had to cook for everybody. It wasn't the life I was used to - I was American, raised in New York.

"I used to look at little kids, especially when it was dark at night-time was coming - and along with that night-time came rape - and I would look at little kids and say, 'Oh my God, I wish I was that little kid'.

"In reality I was just a kid myself.

"I used to wish I was in Rikers Island or any jail - anywhere but there.

"I tried to kill myself numerous times - there used to be these fertilizer pellets that women used to kill themselves. I remember asking some kids to buy me some but they told on me and I got beaten.

"I did anything to stop him from having sex with me. I used to pretend I had kidney stones - I became a great actress."

Horrendous beatings

Ten days after the marriage Naila tried to run away, hiding in the back of cars and even a horse and carriage and trying to avoid the Taliban, to get to the US embassy in Islamabad.

Her first attempt failed and she was brought back to her husband and beaten mercilessly.

Picture: Naila Amin
Picture: Naila Amin

"He beat me in front of my whole family, his sisters, their kids their husbands, my little sister, my mother," Naila said.

"I remember my mother screaming like she was in labour or something.

"He dragged me about 20 feet - the whole length of the house - by my hair.

"I still have a bald patch in my hair from where it never grew back.

"He began kicking me in the head and it was so hard I saw stars.

"I still have an indent in my thigh from where he injured me.

"To make matters worse my father joined in.

"Right after he told me to put makeup on and get ready to go to dinner at his aunt's house. That's how much of a monster he was.

"Then when I came home that night I got raped by my husband."

Five months into the marriage Naila's parents returned to the US.

Naila managed to borrow a phone from an uncle and called her child protection case worker in New York.

Authorities then arrested her mother on her return to the US and charged her with kidnap.

In order to secure her mother's release, Naila's father told her husband she must return home to New York.

When she landed in JFK Airport, Naila felt a huge sense of relief.

The pilot announced she would be the first to get off the plane and she was greeted by a team of 20 social workers and child protection officers.

Naila is now a campaigner and was instrumental in getting New York to raise minimum marriage age to 17. Picture: John Chapple
Naila is now a campaigner and was instrumental in getting New York to raise minimum marriage age to 17. Picture: John Chapple

Lasting legacy of abuse

Now aged 28, Naila lives with her boyfriend in a quiet part of Long Island.

She campaigns tirelessly against child marriage - speaking at high schools and even the UN - and says she never wants any woman to go through what she did.

She has set up her own charity The Naila Amin Foundation and dreams of setting up a group home where victims of child or forced marriage can escape to.

But she still suffers and array of physical and emotional problems caused by her teen marriage.

"Child marriage is something you never come completely come back from," she said.

"I still have PTSD and anxiety. I was robbed of my childhood, of my youth. It has given me lifelong mental problems, even physical problems and it's something that never goes away.

"So I would just like to see the laws change in the United States. Here we are flying to the moon, but we can't end child marriage.

"We need to ban all child marriage in the US. Because if you can't buy cigarettes, you can buy alcohol - what makes it OK to be given such a big responsibility of getting married?

"I lost so much. I'd lost a big chunk of my life that I will never get back. And I think that's why I fight so hard against this.

"How many more lives do we have to ruin? How many more childhoods do we have to snatch in order to make this a reality? I hope that in my lifetime I get to see some change.'

Facts about child marriage in the US

* Child marriage is legal in 50 states

* 207,468 children were married in the US between 2000 and 2015

* 25 states, including California, Nevada, Washington, Michigan, Pennsylvania and New Jersey have no minimum age for a child to marry

* In most states the minimum marriage age is 18 - but exceptions in each of these states allow those younger than 18 to marry with parental consent and/or judicial approval

* Three 10-year-old girls were married to men aged, 24, 25 and 31 in Tennessee in 2001

* A 14-year-old girl married a 74 year-old man in Alabama, according to official state statistics

* In New Jersey alone 3,500 children were married between 1995 and 2012

This article originally appeared on The Sun.



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