12/23/2021, 10.11
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Tajik girl flees forced marriage

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Maniža now lives in a  women's shelter in St. Petersburg. Once she arrived in Russia, her father prevented her from studying. A victim of archaic family and cultural traditions of her people. She escaped thanks to the help of friends and a fundraising campaign on the web.



Moscow (AsiaNews) -  18-year-old Maniza, a girl originally from Tajikistan, but with Russian citizenship lives in a women's shelter on the outskirts of St. Petersburg lives. A journalist from Sever.Realii, Tatiana Volskaya, managed to interview her to bring her story of rebellion against the family and cultural traditions of her people to light.

Maniža arrived in Russia 11 years ago with her family, after having attended first grade in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. In her new homeland she could not attend any school and lived in the Pskov region subject to her parents; her four older siblings (two boys and two girls) suffered the same fate. She recounts that her family, despite having now established residence in Russia, never adapted to the local culture, and schooling for their children was not considered necessary.

The family was supported by the mother's work in a shoe store, while the father worked occasionally, though he reserved the right to administer everyone's property. Then all the children with their mother took care of the large vegetable garden that they managed to grow, taking fruits and vegetables to the markets. Their father waited for them on the sofa at home, ready to scold everyone, even using violence with whips and sticks.

Approaching the age of majority, Maniža was promised to a 21-year-old Tajik man whom she had seen only a couple of times. The girl expressed her opposition to the match, but her older sister explained that only two responses were possible: "If you refuse you have to say 'I will kill myself if you make me marry that man'. If, on the other hand, you say 'father, everything is in your hands, do as you see fit', then you give your consent." Since Maniža is a sunny girl, always smiling and willing to do her share for the family, her consent was considered as automatic.

Attempts to discuss the marriage with her father led to nothing, despite the support of her mother and the youngest of her siblings; the wedding was already set for last autumn, otherwise "the family will be covered in shame". It was then that Maniža understood that the only way out was to run away: "I love children, but I'm not going to start giving birth to them at the age of 18, one after the other, it's crazy. Especially since if the wife doesn't bear a child within the first two years, her husband can divorce her and get another one, and you become an outcast among your people."

Maniža realized she wanted a life of her own, to work and support herself, to star on social media, even without education, to draw and make videos, to focus on makeup and personal care. "I didn't want to slip into a hijab, I'm not interested in this way of living religion, and I'm not interested in getting married either." So she opened an account on TikTok, telling people about her problem, and friends helped her get a credit card with which to open a fundraiser on the social network and on Instagram, from which she got a lot of help.

To prove that she was telling the truth, the girl posted a video of a family argument. The older brother demanded that her phone be taken away, but the mother said "let her next husband decide". As her eighteenth birthday approached, family members kept Maniža under tighter and tighter control, not allowing her to leave the house alone. She hid the obtained money by sewing it inside her boots, keeping a llow profile so as not to attract attention, without any more arguments.

On the appointed day Maniža went out to pay some bills at the post office, without taking anything with her, and the friends who were waiting for her phoned the police not to look for her, if someone reported her missing. Late in the evening she arrived in St. Petersburg and went straight to the police station to confirm that she was all right, getting help from the policeman in drawing up the report, as she was illiterate. Thus began a new life, and now Maniža can finally study.

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