Edinburgh forced marriage victim sets up organisation to help survivors rebuild their lives

A young Muslim woman from Edinburgh who escaped a forced marriage to a cousin has set up new organisation to help survivors rebuild their lives.

Monday, 26th July 2021, 4:45 pm

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Nyla Khan ran away five weeks after she was forced to marry her cousin because her family feared she would become “too western”.

Since then she has endured threats of violence, been shunned by her parents and called a slut by people she thought were her friends.

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Nyla Khan set up Universal Truth for survivors of forced marraige who feel they have nowhere to turn

The 32-year-old vividly recalls how she was taken to Pakistan on holiday at just 17-years-old and told she had to agree to the marriage after bringing “shame on her family”.

The pair were married under Islamic law after her parents had promised her to a cousin from a young age as part of her strict upbringing in Scotland.

But the teenager stayed for five weeks then returned home without her husband, who was to follow later.

A couple of months later she ran away to stay with a friend, before returning home a year later “broken and in tears”.

She said: “I couldn’t have sex with my own cousin. It was awful. My Uncle told me he would keep me there until I gave my husband a child. Those views on the role of women are not compatible with modern life.”

Nyla eventually divorced at 21 and moved away from home to study. After speaking out about her ordeal in the media in 2019 her parents stopped talking to her.

Being cut off from her community has been brutal – but it hasn’t held her back. Now she’s even more determined to help others pick up the pieces.

While working a full-time job Nyla set up an enterprise with lottery cash of £10,000 to provide after-care to victims. She also finished writing a memoir which she hopes will hit the shelves this year.

She said: “After I spoke out I was punished. My family wouldn’t talk to me. It triggered the trauma all over again. Sadly, what they did show me is how to live without them.

"It took me nearly fourteen years of therapy but I’ve built my life back up. I’m not letting them guilt or shame me and I’m driven to help others.”

“There’s too much cultural sensitivity – people are afraid to speak out in case they get accused of being anti Islam. We need to end the silence.

"It’s huge to leave your life behind. You don’t belong anywhere and you can’t go back. There’s help like women’s aid to get shelter, but what happens after that? People don’t belong. They need help to be empowered and rebuild their lives again.”

Universal Truth which launches on Sunday August 1 will provide empowerment programmes, one-to-one counselling and group support.

Ms Khan is also talking to victims about their experiences. She hopes the research will influence policies and to help police develop guidance on how to respond to victims.

She added: “I think the figures on forced marriage seriously underestimate the scale of the problem. All the while victims are stuck at home with their abusers and coerced by communities. When I left my life and family they almost destroyed me. It causes lasting damage. But if I can make it, then it shows others they can do the same. That’s the hope.”

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