My sisters were married off at 13. When my turn came, I ran.


Child marriage survivor Bee Al Darraj tells her story.

There were hundreds of people there, dancing and laughing and eating and drinking.

I was 10 and I didn’t understand that what was happening around me was wrong. I didn’t understand that although my sister was older than me, she wasn’t old enough to be getting married. She was 13 and her groom was 26. They hardly knew each other.

We grew up in Sydney’s Western suburbs in a very strict, very conservative family. As girls, we were expected to cook and clean and one day graduate to the status of housewife. That was the fate of both of my sisters.

Bee speaking about her experience to students at Holroyd High School in Western Sydney where at-risk students partake in a forced marriage awareness program.

When I was 15 my mum presented me with my engagement dress – I didn’t know who I was about to get engaged to. She insisted I try it on, and to be spared her wrath I did. I hated how I looked – this was more revealing than anything I’d even been allowed to wear. But when I came out of the room to show her, it was the first time I had ever seen my mum look at me with pride.

I think there’s a misconception out there that the male in a religious family wields all the power. This wasn’t the case in my household. My father was very reluctant to allow his daughters to be married off. It was mum who thought we were becoming too Westernised and needed a husband to bring us back into line.

I took the dress off, cried and packed my bag. If I didn’t want to be married off, my only option was to run away from home.

Time doesn’t heal all wounds. It’s been 10 years since I ran away and I still deeply resent my mother.

Time doesn’t heal all wounds. It’s been 10 years since I ran away and I still deeply resent my mother.

I keep in touch with my oldest sister, but even then, the relationship is a fragile one. Seeing each other reminds us of a childhood we both want to forget. My sister never truly loved her husband. She was told that she would learn to love him. She tried, but three years into the marriage after the birth of her son, enough was enough, she got out.   

The first few years since leaving home, there was some backlash about my sisters and I leaving the community. People saw it as abandoning our faith and our family, something that is heavily frowned upon.

In the quiet moments at work, when most people are flicking through Facebook or chatting in the staff kitchen, I find myself reflecting on what my life would have been like had I got married. I think about how ordinary my life must look to people on the outside – and it is ordinary. But it was long road to get here, and it’s a good place for me. 

If you, or someone you know needs help, you can visit or call the AFP on 131 237.

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