Pakistani women defy forced marriage abroad
Italian prosecutors are seeking justice for Pakistani immigrant women allegedly killed because they refused marriages imposed by their parents. The cases highlight differences, often misconstrued as religion-based, between centuries-old immigrants’ cultural traditions and Western values prizing individualism.
Living in defiance: Pakistani-born Iram Aslam, 29, peeks through the window of a local social activities centre in Guastalla, northern Italy. She is now estranged from her family back in Pakistan, having refused a marriage, decided at her birth, to a cousin. "I made everyone angry, and no one talks to me anymore"
Ostracised as a result: Aslam defied relatives’ insistence that she marry a cousin in Pakistan, and by her count, rebuffed some 30 other men they tried to get her to marry. She asked to be photographed without showing her face because of hostility in the local immigrant community over her refusal to submit to arranged marriages
Two separate murder trials: this month, Italian prosecutors are seeking justice for Pakistani immigrant women allegedly killed because they refused marriages imposed on them by their parents
The ultimate price: the body of Pakistani Saman Abbas was found in November 2021 near the ruins of a farmhouse in northern Italy, nineteen months after she disappeared. Arriving as a teenager in Italy, Abbas' face was still framed by a black hijab. But she was quick to adopt to Western ways – a thorn in the side of her conservative family
For women's rights: "Trama di Terre" (Weaving of Native Lands) activists and other women’s advocacy groups display a banner in Italian reading 'Freedom for all women, forever free', outside the Reggio Emilia courthouse in northern Italy, during the opening session of the trial in the alleged murder of Saman Abbas
Death by strangulation: 25-year-old Sana Cheema, was slain when she returned from Italy to Pakistan in 2018, allegedly at her parents' insistence. Cheema, an Italian citizen, loved her life as a driving instructor in Brescia. She worked out at the gym, went for coffee with girlfriends and enjoyed clubbing. Prosecutors are now trying Cheema’s father and brother in absentia on a novel charge: murder in violation of the political right to marry one’s own choice
Close friends: Verkalets Olha, right, and Veronica Catana from Moldova, show pictures of their Pakistani-born friend Sana Cheema. They both told the court how Cheema loved her Western lifestyle in Brescia and didn’t want to go back to Pakistan, where her family wanted her to enter into an arranged marriage
Traditions die hard: Swaranjit Singh Ghotra, photographer and wedding planner for Indian and Pakistani couples in Brescia shows pictures of married couples from his Instagram account. He said he receives many requests for arranged marriages that both spouses want
Challenging patriarchal attitudes: prosecuting the case in Italy sends the message that "exercising the right of who you want to live with, above all, who you want to marry, is a political right" to be guaranteed "with utmost firmness," says Brescia's prosecutor-general Guido Rispoli
Forced marriage 'a hidden crime': in the United Kingdom, home to Europe’s largest Pakistani community, the government’s Forced Marriage Unit cautioned that the problem of forced marriage isn’t "specific to one country, religion or culture" and said statistics don’t reflect "the full scale of the abuse"