Can anyone offer any advice?

Posted September 5, 2014 from Portugal

I'm not sure I've come to the right place, but am struggling to find any good resource banks or information online about this topic and maybe someone in this group might have an idea about charities working in this field or just ideas about whether I should get involved and to what extent. Here is the situation: There is a Romanian family near where I live who I imagine to be Roma (although they rent an appartment and don't seem to be nomadic, other aspects of their culture and behaviour suggest they are Roma) and I have gradually befriended them a little over time. Earlier in the year the mother announced to me that they were arranging the marriage of their 19-year-old son. She was rather embarrassed to disclose that the age of the intended bride was only 13. I explained (as best I could - we are both foreigners in this country and our shared language is not one any of us speak well) that I was not happy to hear about this because I didn't feel a girl so young was able to consent emotionally. She took it on board and for a while we were more distant, but the wedding went ahead, of course, all the same, and it wasn't too long before I was introduced to the new member of the family. I went out of my way that first meeting to make sure she knew that I understood she might be finding life a little overwhelming and that she could come to me if ever she wanted. Over time she has - and with more and more frequency. Indeed, she has come to often pass by my house 3 or 4 mornings a week. Of course, usually it used to be to beg, although she has gradually come round to understanding that we have little money ourselves and that I am likely to refuse, so she asks for financial help much less. She doesn't stay long, we chat a little and I let her look use the internet. Then she goes.

But August was our holiday time and my husband and I were away for 3 weeks or so. Monday morning was the first time I'd seen her since then. She was quite emotional at seeing me and the relief on her face that I was back was clear. She had had a hard few weeks and that, coupled with the worry that I might not return from holidays, seemed to make her open up a lot more than usual. The things she's told me have me wondering if I should intrvene somehow in her situation. I think I would if I knew she would be safe, but I am sceptical of any authorities doing anything to intefere with Roma culture, or at least doing so in a way that did not disrupt more than it healed.

She told me that her father had been arrested for beating her younger sister, that he had been arrested, that the child had been taken away, and that everyone was very worried. Her initial version was that he had only slapped her twice on the bum for not wanting to go to school, but as I explained that I didn't believe he could be kept in jail unless there were bruises, she admitted that her sister was in hospital with a broken leg. She initially said she was worried and that he needed to be got out soon, but that soon changed to her hoping that he would be kept in for a long time. Then the fullness of her understanding of her situation and that both her parents had landed her in it became very clear. She couldn't forgive them for what they'd done to her - they'd sold her like an object - 'like a thing you buy in the shop! Except I'm a girl, not a thing!' She continued to detail how her mum knew that she hadn't even got her period yet when she was married off and that noone had ever told her anything about her body and sex... but that now she felt she knew more than a 50year old. She said noone in her new family hurt her, and that she likes her husband, but that she isn't very happy there. She hates begging - 'taking money from poor old women! My heart beats in my chest and I feel awful!', that she only wishes she could go to school and if she could she would study, study, study (she had a few years' education when she was young), and even that she can't stand this country and wants to get away.

And punctuated through all this were her pleas that I tell noone, that this was how it is for her and that it can't change for her, however much she wants it to. I am worried that, with the culture she lives in, this may well be true. I don't want to make things worse for her by doing the wrong thing.

Does anyone have advice on how I can help her, other than listening to her, nurturing her own humanity, sense of self and sense of right and wrong? I have already let her know I can help her improve her maths skills and maybe English, but her other languages would be her reading/writing priorities and I don't have the knowledge myself. She has made it clear to me that she feels I'm the only one she can talk to and she considers me to be a role model (just for marrying at 35 'when I could know who I was'!) and the best friend she has. And so, I really feel I need to try and do right by her. She is now 14.

Any ideas??

Comments 3

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  • Sherry Sherry
    Sep 05, 2014
    Sep 05, 2014

    I am touched to the bone after reading this story. I belief strongly you have come to the right place. However, my advice may not be the expert's one. A girl of 13 years in marriage? In my country there are so many rehabilitation centres working on this. I don't know of the situation and established institutions taking care of situations like this. I hope you get more comments on how to go.

    Thanks for letting the cat out of the bag. It is a solution in itself.

    Together we can!

    Warm regards, Sherry

  • Cali gal Michelle
    Sep 05, 2014
    Sep 05, 2014

    Sally- Our hearts truly go out to this girl for all she has and is enduring. Our hearts go out to you as well for your compassion and attempt to help her. I am sorry that I'm not familiar with the laws or cultural norms of Portugal, or if there is any legal recourse in this matter. There is a Resources page here on the World Pulse site where you could search for some information or help.

    Please let us know if there is anything else you need or can't seem to find the right resource. Private message me to assure I get your message or question.

    We stand together-

  • Sereima R Savu
    Sep 05, 2014
    Sep 05, 2014

    Firstly, underage marriage is a crime so you need to inform the Police. Getting social services involved would also be good. Taking advice from a women's shelter or counselling centre would also help.

    Act now.