I was around six when my mother disappeared, she took us to school one morning and that’s the last time we ever saw her.
Mum was British and our father Arabic Yemeni, my sisters and I were born and living in Newport, South Wales at the time. Our father told us mum had just left us and ran away, but a year later he was arrested and charged with her murder, he got 6 years.
I was the youngest and my three sisters and I were put into foster care with the same family. We had a good foster home, but when our father was released after serving only four years social services returned us into his care. We adored our father and never thought he was guilty of murdering our mum, so when he promised us a fantastic holiday to his country we couldn’t wait to go.
We left for Yemen on my 13th birthday in May 1977; my oldest sister didn’t travel with us because she was sitting important exams at the time. When we got to the airport dad told us he had to stay behind, he said he had some urgent business to take care of but would join us in a few days, he told us our uncle would meet us on the other side.
When we got to Yemen we found out our holiday was anything but a holiday, we were to be sold as child brides. Dad had already sold one of my sisters to one of his friends before we even left England; she was only 14 years old. One of my other sisters committed suicide on her wedding night, she had been sold to a 60 year old man, and she was barely 17 years old.
I was married at 13 but after just 6 weeks of marriage my husband died, so I was once again sold at the age of 14. I have 5 wonderful children from this marriage, even though my marriage was one of physical, emotional and sexual abuse that went on for almost 17 years.
I only managed to escape Yemen after fleeing to the British Embassy in 1992; from there my children and I were given safe passage back home to the UK.
When I came back to the UK I was 29 years old and I had my five children, I had no education and I was being hunted by my family. I’d “dishonored” them by choosing to be free.
Twenty years later I’ve finally found the courage to speak out, however, I for one understand why so many decide not to speak out, I stayed silent for so long.
There are so many females going through similar situations like what my sisters and I went through, so many women who are being abused, who chose to take their own lives, and also those who are murdered. This is why we all need to come together and raise our voices to be heard.
I’m still learning a lot myself, I never got the chance to return to education after I came home, there was so much more I needed to do with my family. But now I’d really like to put my voice alongside anyone else who decides to speak out and say “enough is enough”!
Right now my passion is to do whatever I can to raise awareness so that the practice of child/early/forced marriage can be eradicated. Many people will never understand the pain and suffering that child brides endure day in day out.
We lose so much more than our freedom and our dignity. Many lose the will to live, many have their lives taken away from them in so called “honour killings” but what I can say about those of us who live and fight to survive is that we have courage, and are stronger than anyone knows.
My sisters and I had our whole lives torn apart when our mum was murdered, then again when we were separated from our sister and taken to Yemen, then again when we lost another sister to suicide. I could name many, many heart breaking things that happened to us when we became child brides. I’ve witnessed so many girls suffer so much abuse in my life; it would break anyone’s heart if only they could see for themselves.
Nowadays I spend a lot of my time learning how to use my computer so that I can spread the word via social media. Computers are not something I’m good at, but this won’t stop me from trying!
I’ve written my memoirs “A Fathers Betrayal” in the hope that other girls will speak out if they see they are not alone in what they are going through, or have gone through.
I really hope that my story will open the eyes of those who don’t know about the plight of child brides and prompt them into doing something, anything, to help. This isn’t just a practice that happens in other corners of the world, it happens right here in the UK and it needs to be stopped!
2014, Gabriella Gillespie