FIFTEEN-year-old Sopheap's nightmare began two years ago, when a goldsmith moved
into the house she and her family were living in. In the beginning he was nice
enough. But when her parents told Sopheap (not her real name) that he was in
love with her, she knew she was in trouble.
"That's when I stopped
talking to him," explains Sopheap, fidgeting with a ring with a smiling plastic
face on her right hand.
Sopheap's parents wanted her to marry the
goldsmith - 12 years her elder. And as the young girl refused, they embarked
upon a vicious campaign to persuade her. For weeks, she was detained in the
house and beaten when her dislike towards the husband her parents had chosen for
her became too obvious.
Only when human rights groups became involved did
she manage to escape her private prison. And today, two months after she got out
of the house, Sopheap is still afraid of her parents and fears what will happen
if she goes back home. At least as long as the goldsmith is living in the
"My father told the organizations that he will no longer force me
to marry. But I don't believe he would have made that promise if the
organizations weren't involved. And I don't believe he's telling the truth,
anyway," says Sopheap, who is now living with an NGO in Phnom Penh.
didn't have another boyfriend; I just didn't love the goldsmith. I told my
parents I was too young to marry. I just wanted to continue going to school,"
Though the marriage had been in the making for almost two
years, the situation escalated in March this year, when Sopheap's parents
forbade her to continue her studies at junior high school. They said they had
consulted a fortune-teller, who predicted that if Sopheap continued learning,
she would have a serious accident. When Sopheap defied the advice and kept on
studying, her parents wouldn't allow her to leave the house without the company
of either her mother or her father.
They also sped up preparations for
the wedding. Sopheap became so frustrated that she decided she wanted to commit
suicide and unsuccessfully tried to cut one of her wrists with pieces of a
"My parents urged me to go and see some old people in my native
village who would arrange the marriage. I got so angry and thought I wanted to
kill myself," says Sopheap, the eldest and only girl of five siblings.
the meantime, the beatings got worse, she says. On one occasion, Sopheap's
father beat her all over her body with a cane stick, leaving his daughter with
several bruises on the legs. Also, her mother kicked her and pulled her hair
while keeping Sopheap down with a foot on her neck. For two days after that, the
girl couldn't eat and had difficulties moving her head.
"My mother beat
me many times and my father beat me twice. They always blamed me for not talking
to the goldsmith, and when I still refused to speak to him, they would beat me,"
In late May, she became worried that her parents might beat
her to death if she kept resisting their wish for her to marry the goldsmith.
She therefore decided to seek help from an NGO. Through one of her younger
brothers and a friend she managed to sneak out a letter to the French
organization ASPECA, begging them to help her escape.
"I was afraid my
parents would find out about the letter. If they had, they would have sent me to
a remote province where nobody could find me," says Sopheap.
ASPECA and a
relative of Sopheap contacted the human rights group Licadho and asked them to
help rescue her. On May 30, Licadho managed to get Sopheap out of the house and
took her to ASPECA's office. There, the bruised girl told her story. She said
she was very scared of her parents and refused to go back home.
Sopheap's parents had no intention of letting their daughter get away so easily.
They showed up at the ASPECA office, demanding that Sopheap return home
immediately. Through mediation by police, and staff from the UN Center for Human
Rights, it was decided that Sopheap would stay with the organizations.
Later, her parents put emotional pressure on the young girl, accusing
her of being responsible for her mother having a heart attack and threatening
that she would die soon if her daughter didn't return home. All the time,
Sopheap refused to go back and tried to avoid contact with her parents as much
"I think they were afraid that the organizations would file
a complaint against them because they ill-treated me. They promised Licadho that
they wouldn't beat me any more, but I don't know for sure if they will keep
their promise. I'm still very scared of them," says Sopheap.
Sopheap doesn't know what to do. She has considered returning to her parents'
house, but only if the goldsmith leaves, and she doesn't think he
"My parents are very fond of the goldsmith, even though he isn't
rich. They look up to him and care more about him than about their own
children," says Sopheap.
So for now, she will stay with the NGO and hopes
to resume her studies when the school year starts again. In the future, she
would like to study English and eventually become a lawyer.
"The advice I
would give to other girls in the same situation as mine is: Go and ask any
organization to help you. Parents can tell their children what to do. But they
should not force them if the children have a good reason not to obey their
orders," says Sopheap.