My miserable life in a forced marriage

Last updated 05:00 21/06/2013
Indian bride, arranged marriage, forced marriage

ARRANGED MARRIAGE: Joelle Mazoud was beaten and miserable.

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About 55 per cent of marriages in the world today are "arranged" and some families still push their children into arrangements against their will.

What are the differences between an "arranged" and "forced" marriage?

In Joelle's story, there were none.

Joelle Mazoud is a 34-year-old first-generation Australian Lebanese woman. In 1994 she was ripped out of school and taken to Lebanon by her family to marry a man she had never met and then abandoned in a loveless and abusive marriage.

"It was three days after my 16th birthday when over dinner my dad proudly announced that he had found me a husband, Kardal, a merchant and the cousin of a friend," she says.

"At first I thought he was joking. I looked over to mum and realised he wasn't. I went hysterical, I begged, pleaded and tried to reason, my mother told me this was my destiny, like her and her mother before her. She told me love would come when I was old enough to understand what love was.

"There was no discussion, my father didn't care that I wanted to finish school or had dreams of becoming a teacher. While I grew up in a strict Lebanese family, I always believed that I would be like my Australian friends, graduate high school, go to uni, maybe meet a nice guy with the same background and see what happened. Never once did I think I was going to be traded to some man I'd never met," Mazoud says.

"In the days between finding out I was to be married and going to Lebanon I contemplated everything from running away, calling the police and ending my life. I never even got the chance to say goodbye to my friends.

"My wedding took place a week after we arrived, I saw Kardal once, briefly before the wedding. He came to finalise the Mahr (a formal statement specifying the monetary amount the groom will give the bride), which my father took. He was 11 years my senior, his eyes were cold and bleak and his presence was menacing," Mazoud recalls.

"When he left I swore to my parents I would die before marrying him. My father struck me, saying he would not tolerate me bringing shame to him or my family with my insolence.

"When I asked where were we going to live when we got home, my father dropped the next bombshell, he told me I would be staying here with him, everything went quiet and I blacked out.

"The wedding was a simple affair, more like a business deal than a wedding. A few local people and friends of my father's and husband attended, I don't honestly remember too much.

"My parents left three days after the wedding while I moved into what would be my home. The years that followed were the darkest of my life. Kardal was a cruel man, I would scream and cry and lock myself in the bathroom. He would often grab me by the hair or the arm and throw me down, climbing me like an animal.

"Eventually I stopped fighting and would just whimper into my pillow. I suffered 11 miscarriages in the eight years I was with him. He would often yell and beat me for not being able to bare him children.

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"I was a prisoner, rarely allowed to leave the house, but for some groceries or various religious festivities. I had limited access to the outside world and only monitored communication with my family every few months.

"It wasn't until 2002 when my father fell ill and was on his death bed that my husband granted me permission to fly back to Melbourne to see him. I had been able to organise a new Australian passport through the embassy to allow my return home, I don't think anyone imagined what I was planning," Mazoud says.

"I remember boarding the plane, as it took off I began to sob, not for my father, not for my freedom but for that little 16 year-old girl that lost everything and now eight years later I was able to return to Australia, with no plans of ever leaving.

"A week after my father passed I was due to return home, my brother insisted on taking me to the airport, he waited for me to walk through the gate and I waited till I knew he was gone. I went back to the check-in desk, cancelled my flight, collected my luggage and boarded a flight to Brisbane.

Several years prior, I had met an Australian Lebanese woman while she was holidaying with family in my town and we kept in touch via mail. I arrived in Brisbane and called her, telling her what I had done. She kindly let me stay with her till I could get on my feet," Mazoud confesses.

"There is no doubt I was one of the lucky ones. My father believed he knew best when it came to choosing who I would marry. I wonder if he had seen the constant bruises on my tear-stained face, heard my screams when Kardal would get into a rage and pour hot tea over me or saw my crumpled, malnourished body after yet another miscarriage if he still would have felt the same way?

"That was 11 years ago, I have since changed my name via deed poll, moved to Sydney, have some great friends and am happily fulfilling my teaching dreams as a teaching aide. My family may have exiled me, but I have never been happier," smiles Mazoud.

- Daily Life

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