'You must do the marriage'

EMMA PARTRIDGE
Last updated 05:00 17/02/2014

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When Bangladeshi teenager Trisa* walked out of Sydney Airport with a suitcase in tow, she thought it was the beginning of a new and better life.

But the 16-year-old quickly realised she was trapped and had little say about what had been planned for her.

She came to Australia to study accounting and live in a country where it was safe for her to walk down the street.

Her uncle adopted Trisa and her younger brother and promised their parents he would help them get a better education.

That was never his intention.

From the moment Trisa walked into her uncle's home in Sydney's east on a spring morning in 2011, he began a campaign of harassment.

He cut her off from communicating with anyone until she agreed to marry her 36-year-old cousin so he could get a visa to live in Australia.

She was not allowed to call her worried parents, use a computer and sometimes stopped from going to school. The teenager had no money, no car and did not speak English.

''I was just feeling, where should I go? I couldn't find anywhere to do anything,'' she said telling her story for the first time.

''I didn't know anyone here and I was alone and my brother is younger than me. I can't share anything with anyone and I was feeling depressed.''

Trisa decided to share her tale after hearing about a 12-year-old girl who was ''married'' and had a sexual relationship with a 26-year-old man.

Child abuse detectives last week arrested her ''husband'', her father and the Muslim cleric who conducted the illegal Islamic ceremony in the Hunter Valley. Under Australian law, people aged 16 or 17 who want to marry someone over the age of 18 need the permission of a judge or magistrate and permission from both parents or guardians.

Looking back Trisa wishes there had been information about where she could go for help at the intensive language school she attended in Surry Hills.

''I actually try to do my study or just go out or walk on the road because I don't want to stay at home because if I stay he, my uncle, start talking about that thing [marriage],'' she said. ''I was feeling so miserable. I had everything in my mind. It was so hard.''

The uncle began sending emails through her to her 36-year-old cousin.

She believes he was constructing a ''fake relationship'' that would convince authorities the pair were a couple.

For more than 12 months her uncle constantly told her to ''do the marriage'' and asked her to sign papers.

''You do me a favour! I bring you here, give you study and a new life you must do the marriage!'' her uncle would scream.

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Her parents were livid and asked for the uncle to send their children home but he refused unless they paid him $10,000 - money they couldn't afford. They were not able to speak to their daughter or son until she saved up to buy a SIM card many months after she had arrived.

Trisa said the thought of marrying her cousin made her sick. ''I see him as my brother. I just don't want to marry my brother because it's horrible. I wasn't ready for marriage I just wanted to do the study,'' she said. ''It's about my life, and I make my own decisions."

Her uncle said she could divorce her cousin as soon as he arrived but nothing he said or did convinced her to agree.

Once a month her uncle held a meeting in his house for the Buddhist community and Trisa would scan the room looking for someone she could confide in.

Eventually she found Natalie, Pankaj and Maire - who had always suspected something was wrong.

''I just thought she was really, really lonely and she just looked dead in her face,'' Natalie said.

Members of the Bangladeshi Buddhist community in Sydney confronted the uncle but he remained adamant he would marry off his niece.

In October 2012, Trisa packed her bags and walked out the doors with Natalie and Pankaj. She later moved into the attic of their Newtown house with her younger brother.

''We had to kidnap her essentially,'' Natalie said.

Because the uncle was not successful in forcing Trisa to marry, he cannot be charged.

Last week Trisa sat in her new Newtown apartment and spoke about the joy she found earning her own money as a cleaner each day and studying every night.

''What I think Australia can do is be more aware of forced marriage, make people aware of this and try to change people's minds,'' she said.

She said she would never have been able to escape without help and feared for other girls in similar situations.

''It's just so bad at that young age - people can't understand anything. They are just children they don't know the environment or world very well.''

Trisa and her brother were able to go home and visit their parents for Christmas and plan on finishing their study in Australia.

* Not her real name

- Sydney Morning Herald

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