Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - 15-year-old girl trapped in a pre-nuptial prison

15-year-old girl trapped in a pre-nuptial prison

15-year-old girl trapped in a pre-nuptial prison

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

house.

"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.

"I

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,"

she says.

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

bulb.

"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.

In

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,"

says Sopheap.

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.

But

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

as possible.

"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.

Right now,

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

will.

"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.

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