Letter from a Child Bride

There are millions worldwide raising their voices against child marriage, and as a survivor myself I want to thank you

Child brides of the world I wish the wind could carry my voice to reach each and every one of you, I’d tell you to never give up, and hope that one day things will change for the better. There is nothing more powerful than hope. Hope can give you the strength to cling onto life in your darkest hour, be strong, and never lose hope.

Child brides of the world, past, present, and future, please let your voices be heard, stand together and unite as one. If we all come together and raise our voices then the world will start to listen to us and feel our pains. We need to tell our stories, let them know why it’s important to all that Child marriage becomes a thing of the past.

It was important for me to speak out about what I went through, along with my sisters, my cousin and my family and friends who were also child brides. Many have read my story and told me they never knew this harmful practice even existed. Now these wonderful people support me in my campaign to end child marriage.

I told of how I was sold at the age of 13 as a child bride. Yes, me, a British girl who was taken by my father from my home in the UK, to his home country of Yemen on my 13th birthday. I was taken on the pretence that we were going for a “holiday” along with my 14 and 16 year old sisters. Once there, we were all sold as child brides.

It’s important for everyone to know the real pains we go through as child brides. I had my 14 year old sister ripped from my arms kicking and screaming to be given to a man as his wife. I watched as my other sister took her own life rather than be given to a 60 year old man as his second wife. I slowly watched my 13 year old cousin have her beautiful smile, innocence and childhood robbed from her by her brutal husband.

I myself suffered 17 years of unimaginable abuse before I managed to escape.

The world needs to hear our stories and they need to listen when we say “enough is enough”, we need to end child marriage.

I know it’s difficult to speak out sometimes. It took me 17 years to find the courage to break free, but I got there once I found my strength, and I’ve never looked back.

It pains me to hear and see so much heartache as I read more and more heart breaking stories about child brides. It doesn’t just pain me, it also angers me because I ask why are stories like mine still happening today? Why are people in power allowing this to happen?

However, there have been many steps forward regarding child marriage, and those give me the hope that this can one day stop completely.

I see young girls like Nujood Ali from Yemen, a 10-year-old child who was the first Yemeni girl at her age to flee to a courthouse and demand a divorce, and she got it! I see young activists around the world refusing to become child brides. Going from village to village to teach others on the impact this harmful tradition has on young lives, and they are winning hearts. I see beautiful talented artists from all walks of life telling our stories through their art as to why child/ forced marriage/ Female Genital Mutilation (FGM )/ Honour Based Violence (HBV) and all types of violence against women must stop.

There are millions worldwide raising their voices against child marriage, and as a survivor myself I know each and every child bride of the world would want to thank you.

I know I am merely one of thousands with a story of survival, but I’m going to use my story any way I can to show why child marriage should be a thing of the past. I am going to be amongst those who raise their voices and I will shout as loud as I can!

I am back in the UK now and I do what I can to campaign and raise awareness on child/forced marriage and violence against women. I’m not well educated, my education stopped at the age of 13 when I became a child bride. I never had the opportunity to return to education after I escaped back home with my children, but that doesn’t stop me from doing what I can. Last year I wrote my own book about my life as a child bride and it became a bestseller overnight, so it just shows that you don’t have to be a genius to achieve something in life, you just have to believe in yourself and never give up hope.

Child marriage is a complicated issue and one that can’t be solved overnight or with a single resolution, but education would be a huge start. There is a need to educate whole communities on the consequences that an harmed child has on our children, and I am not just talking about our girls, because it happens to boys also. We need to put schools in the most remote rural areas where child marriage is happening at an alarming rate. It’s in these rural areas where children are mostly at risk because they are isolated, help doesn’t reach them as much as the towns and cities. I was living in one of these rural villages in Yemen and I know that almost every girl in the village I lived in and the surrounding villages were married around the same age as I was, and younger.

On 22 July 2014, the UK hosted the first Girl Summit, aimed at mobilising domestic and international efforts to end both Child/Forced marriage and Female Genital Mutilation within a generation. UNICEF co-hosted the event. I was at the Summit along with Governments from over 50 countries and campaigners from around the world who pledged support. Now everyone with influence should stand up, support and accelerate their efforts to end these practices.

It brightens up my day when I read stories of survival and hope, stories of all the brave girls and women who are taking back their lives and choosing to be free.

My hope is that one day in the very near future these stories will fade away, not because people stop speaking out, but because there are no more stories to tell.

Child brides of the world I wish the wind could carry my message to you that change is coming. Never lose hope, because one-day child marriage will be a thing of the past.

If you feel you are in danger of Child/Forced marriage, or need help escaping a Forced marriage, please contact any of the numbers below for help

Forced Marriage Unit (UK) 02070080151

Welsh Women’s Aid (Wales) 0808 8010800

Savera (UK 07716266484

Jan Trust (UK) 0800 1412994

Karma Nirvana (UK) 0800 5999247

IRCW (USA) +2027970007

Vasavya Mahila Mandali (India) +91-866-2470966/24702934

CRIN (Egypt) +20226019559

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Gabriella Gillespie

Gabriella was born and raised in the UK. At the age of 13 she was taken to Yemen by her father and sold as a Child bride. She escaped back to the UK 17 years later with her five children.
She now works with Too Young to Wed, a non profit organization who pledge to do everything it can to end child marriage.
She is a passionate advocate for women’s rights and work alongside many different charities and organizations in the UK campaigning and raising awareness on the harmful practices of child/forced marriage and violence against women.
She have also written her memoirs: “A Father’s Betrayal”

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