Immigrants oppose forced marriage abroad

GUASTALLA, Italy (AP) — From the day he was born in Pakistan, Iram Aslam was engaged to his 17-day older cousin. But to the young woman who immigrated to this Italian farming village on the Po River Plain in her teens, the cousin felt like a brother. So when she visited her hometown, she played around for a while and told her aunt that she wasn’t ready for her marriage.

“They did everything to get me married to him,” said Aslam, now 29.

Her family continued to plan to marry men of her choice, and their castes, both in Italy and Pakistan.

“In the end, I pissed everyone off and no one talked to me anymore,” she said of relatives in Pakistan.

In two murder trials this month, Italian prosecutors are seeking justice for a Pakistani migrant woman who was allegedly murdered for refusing to marry her parents. These examples highlight the often misunderstood religiously-based differences between the centuries-old cultural traditions of immigrants and Western values ​​that emphasize individualism.

“I liked another and wanted another,” Aslam said of her own situation. because it doesn’t exist.”

Love is considered a “sin,” she adds, and her thick, wavy brown hair is covered with a multi-colored headscarf. , called for a complete obscurity of the face, fearing that the migrant community would further antagonize its dominant Pakistani neighbors.

To escape marriage-obsessed relatives, Aslam lived in Germany for a time.

But 18-year-old Saman Abbas had no escape.

Like Aslam, she migrated as a teenager from Pakistan to the Italian farming village of Novellara, 11 kilometers (7 miles) from Guastalha.

In what appears to be an ID photo taken shortly after her arrival, Abbas’ face is framed by a black hijab or headscarf. Appeared in social media posts with hair rolling out from under a stylish headband. One video showed her and her Pakistani boyfriend kissing on the streets of Bologna, the capital of the province.

Italian investigators say the kiss enraged Abbas’ parents, who wanted their daughter to marry a Pakistani cousin.

In November, her body was exhumed at the ruins of a farmhouse in Novellara. was last seen alive on surveillance camera video. A few days later, her parents boarded a flight from Milan to Pakistan.

Abbas reportedly told her boyfriend that she feared for her life because she refused to marry an older man in her hometown.

An autopsy revealed a broken neck bone, likely from strangulation.

An uncle and a cousin were extradited from France, another cousin from Spain. They are now on trial in the Emilia of Reggio, the provincial capital governing Novellara, for the murder of Abbas.

Also charged is her father, Shabir Abbas, who was arrested in his village in eastern Punjab. The whereabouts of her mother, who was also indicted, is unknown.

Her father’s lawyer, Akhtar Mahmoud, told Italian state television that the young woman’s family was innocent. He disputed the prosecutor’s allegations, claiming that he wanted to return to Pakistan with her family to escape the western path.

Asked about Italy’s demand for the extradition of Shabir Abbas, Pakistan’s ambassador to Italy, Ali Javed, told The Associated Press that the Pakistani government “will not hesitate” to do so. does not have an extradition treaty with

Javed accused “personal ignorance” of forced marriages, which are illegal in Pakistan.

In 2019, Italy made it a crime to force an Italian citizen or resident to marry, even outside the country, subject to the Domestic Violence Act.

Later this month, Spanish police detained the father of two sisters who were allegedly murdered while visiting family in Pakistan. The women reportedly refused her husband to come to Spain after being forced to marry a cousin.

In the United Kingdom, home to Europe’s largest Pakistani community, the government’s Forced Marriage Division warned that the issue of forced marriage was not “unique to any particular country, religion or culture”, adding that statistics were “a global phenomenon”. It doesn’t reflect the whole picture,” he said. Because forced marriage is a “hidden crime”.

Under the Italian judicial system, civil plaintiffs can sue criminal courts for damages, and two organizations representing the Italian Muslim community are among those suing in Abbas’ trial. .

Other plaintiffs include women’s advocacy groups.

Tiziana Dal Pra of Trama delle Terre, a group that promotes cross-cultural relations, said that while violence around forced marriages was “interpreted as religious”, what actually worked was the “patriarchy” of women’s bodies. It is said that it is a system.

In December, a court in the northern city of Brescia convicted three Pakistani immigrants, the parents and older brothers of four girls, for beating them and keeping them out of school, and sentenced them to five years in prison. was handed over.

According to court documents, the parents threatened their daughters that they would end up like the “Pakistani girl” if they refused an arranged marriage.

The court said the threats were related to 25-year-old Sana Chiema, who was murdered on her return to Pakistan from Italy in 2018, allegedly at the insistence of her parents.

According to friends, Cima, who received Italian citizenship, loved life in Brescia, working out in the gym, going out for coffee with his girlfriends, and dancing at discos. She took pride in her work teaching at a driving school in a northern city.

Prosecutors in Brescia are now holding Cima’s father and brother on trial in absentia on new charges. It is a murder that violates the political right of a self-chosen marriage.

In 2019, a Pakistani court acquitted two of the murder charges on the grounds of insufficient evidence. It ruled that Brescia’s trial could proceed because it did not have an agreement to do so.

Cheema’s family initially told Pakistani authorities that she had died of a heart attack the day before she was due to return to Italy. He testified that he said he wanted to get married.

They also cited a Facebook message in which Cheema said her parents had confiscated her passport and phone in Pakistan.

Cima’s body was exhumed as the Italian embassy followed the case closely. Her autopsy showed that she was likely strangled.

The Italian prosecution sent a message that “exercising the rights of those who want to live together, especially those who want to marry, is a political right” and requires “maximum and firm” guarantees. Brescia Prosecutor General Guido Rispoli said. AP.

At the edge of the field near the farmhouse where Saman Abbas’ body was found, mourners left stuffed squirrels and bouquets of flowers at the makeshift shrine.

Aslam said of violence related to forced marriages, “It will continue to happen. That’s right.”

The progress achieved in trials like Reggio Emilia and Brescia is not enough, she added: “It’s like salt in flour.”


AP’s religious coverage is supported through a partnership between AP and The Conversation US with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. AP is solely responsible for this content.