Naila Amin never got to experience childhood. She was engaged to her cousin at eight years old, married by age 13 and repeatedly raped by her husband until she was 15.
“My life was delayed and I was robbed of my health, freedom and education,” Amin said.
Amin told the story of how she was forced into marriage, as a child, to students at the Tabler Black Box Theatre on Wednesday, Dec. 5. The event was hosted by Stony Brook University’s chapter of “I Am That Girl,” an organization aimed at empowering young women and giving them a space to discuss social justice issues.
“Through Naila’s story, we intend to educate students about this issue and hope it inspires them to take action against it as well,” event coordinator for “I Am That Girl” and a sophomore Spanish major, Daniela Robles said.
Amin was born in a remote village in Pakistan. She explained how the village had an “eye for an eye” mentality, which made life difficult for everyone, but particularly women. After her dad immigrated to the U.S., he was able to sponsor her, her siblings and her mother.
Amin came to the U.S. at the age of 4 and lived in Queens, New York. Four years later, her life would take a dramatic turn when she visited Pakistan to attend her cousin’s wedding. “The girls asked me, ‘Haven’t you heard that you’re being given away?’ and I was so confused,” Amin said. At eight years old, Amin was forced to become engaged to her first cousin, a man 13 years her senior.
According to the U.N., 37,000 girls under the age of 18 are married every day.
At age 13, Amin went back to Pakistan to do her ‘nikah,’ a ceremonial Islamic marriage that is done without an official marriage license.
Amin’s father applied to legalize the marriage and for an American spousal visa so her husband could become a U.S. citizen. She explained that this was one of the driving reasons behind their marriage. “I was just a green card to them,” Amin said.
Amin remembers signing some paperwork but was sure that officials would notice her age and throw the application out. That was not the case. Naila said, “I was so meek and scared when I was getting married.”
After returning to the U.S. at age 14, Amin said she was constantly fighting with her parents. Ultimately, she ended up in a group home where she found herself frequently running away.
In January of 2005, Amin returned to Pakistan where she was legally wed to her husband against her will. She saw the ceremony as a “farewell to the old me, almost like a funeral for 15-year-old Naila,” she said. “I remember the day of my marriage as the day where a part of myself died in which I will never be able to get back.”
On the night of her wedding, Amin’s husband came into her room and forced himself on her. She told him, “I don’t want to do this” and even lied and said she was a lesbian — but he did not care. “I became his slave and I was forced to live with my rapist,” Amin said. Her husband took her cell phone, her passport and kept her under tight control. She recalled one night when her father and husband started beating her together.
The tenth night of Amin’s marriage was the first of many times when her husband would rape her. “I felt like I was being treated like a fruit basket,” she said. Amin would try to come up with ways of getting out of sex. She even faked having kidney stones. “It’s almost like I became an actress because I didn’t want him to touch me. He didn’t know what consent was,” she said.
One day, Amin received a call from Child Protective Services in the U.S. She was told that someone would eventually come to get her. “That phone call gave me life and it was like I had gotten a piece of my soul back,” she said.
After she was retrieved by the U.S. Embassy and brought back to New York in 2005, she attended ten years of therapy, where Naila learned to forgive her parents. She explained how she did not want to continue to live in misery. After returning and finally being free from her perpetrator, Naila explained that it was difficult for her to go back to normal, and to this day she still is not the same. Naila said she remembered asking her parents, “Why was I the lamb that had to get sacrificed?”
Juliette Kimmins, a freshman undecided major and member of “I Am That Girl,” knows Amin personally after developing a relationship with her after she spoke at her high school in Bay Shore. She has been working with Amin for over a year now at the Naila Amin Foundation, an organization Amin started to help other victims of child marriage. Kimmins said, “Naila has had to come to terms with forgiving her family while also mourning a childhood that was cut way too short. She is by far the strongest person I’ve ever met.”
From this experience, Amin explained how she felt that she had lost the girl she was before she had gotten married. “I’m sharing this story and being vulnerable and open, so we don’t have another Naila born into this world,” she said.
Kimmins believes child marriage is a topic that largely goes unaddressed, especially in the United States. She believes that most people assume that it must have already been outlawed decades ago. Kimmins said, “The reality is that it happens here and it’s happening more frequently than most would think. In the U.S., child marriage happens in all states and in all types of communities.”
Now, at the age of 29, Amin is looking to pursue a bachelor’s degree in social work or psychology and then plans go to law school so she can help other survivors of child marriage. She also runs the Naila Amin Foundation. “One of my goals is to open up the first group home in order to house girls under the age of 18 who want to escape forced marriages,” Amin said. Recently, Naila helped pass a bill in New Jersey that raised the minimum child marriage age to 18.
Naila said, “I don’t even hate my ex-husband anymore because I forgave everyone — for myself, not for them.” When asked what words she would say to the one who caused her pain, she said, “I have no words for him. None at all.”