Authorities arrested a Muslim couple from Iraq March 23 in San Antonio, Texas, for beating and torturing their daughter after she refused a forced marriage.
Sixteen-year-old Maarib Al Hishmawi ran away from Taft High School at the end of January and remained missing until authorities announced they found her as of March 24, according to the San Antonio Express-News. When authorities finally located Maarib, she told them she fled because her parents beat her with broomsticks, poured hot cooking oil on her, and choked her “almost to the point of unconsciousness.” These actions were due to Maarib’s refusal of consent to a forced marriage with an older man.
“This young lady … was subjected to some pretty bad abuse because she didn’t want to be married to this person,” Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar told The Washington Post.
Maarib’s parents, Abdulah Fahmi Al Hishmawi and Hamdiyah Sabah Al Hishmawi, arranged in mid-2017 to marry their daughter to an older man once he agreed to pay the family $20,000, investigators said. Authorities have not made the man’s name public, but they know his identity and he, too, will likely face charges, law enforcers said. Maarib pretended to agree to the wedding only to stop the violence from her parents but then fled and sought sanctuary with an unnamed group before her family could orchestrate the wedding.
“It became fairly obvious very early on that this wasn’t a regular missing persons case,” Salazar said on Friday, according to CBS.
“Several times, it was reported to us that this young lady was abused, with hot oil being thrown on her body. She was beaten by broomsticks. At one point, she was choked almost to the point of unconsciousness.”
Abdulah became increasingly agitated during the investigation, blaming a lack of police effort for his daughter’s continued disappearance and even suggested she was kidnapped and taken back to the Middle East. Authorities found Maarib, however, in mid-March in another city. They declined to name the group who sheltered her during that time.
Abdulah immigrated to the U.S. in 2016 from Iraq with his six children after having worked for the U.S. forces as an interpreter, he said. Maarib’s family held two year visas for the U.S. but did not go into detail about what kind of visas they were, Officials told San Antonio Express-News.
Arranged marriages are not permissible without the consent of the daughter, Islamic fatwahs — official rulings from Muslim clerics — from the Shāfi’iand Ḥanbali school of Islamic interpretation dictate. In practice, however, forced marriages are common in predominantly Islamic countries like Pakistan and Iraq, even though Iraqi national law forbids it. Hanafi Sunni Islam of the Taliban encourages it, as well as the version of Salafist Islam ISIS practiced and upheld as tribal custom. The authority to choose a daughter’s husband, called Wilāyah, falls to a male guardian or Wali, who is usually the girl’s father or grandfather. Forced Muslim marriages involving children have also been a problem in countries like the UK, in which some imams have performed thousands of forced marriages in secret to avoid the authorities’ scrutiny. (News outlets like CBS, The Washington Post, San Antonio Express News and others neglected to mention Maarib’s family’s Islamic faith in their reporting on the attempted forced marriage.)
Iraqi law prescribes hefty punishments for those convicted of forcing a woman to marry against her will, but authorities do not always strongly enforce the laws against arranged marriages. Forced-marriage women run the risk of suffering attacks and violence from family members or their community if they protest the marriage.
Abdulah and Hamdiyah are both facing at least one felony count of continuous family violence, Salazar told San Antonio Express-News. Maarib and her five siblings — ages between 5 and 15 years old — are in Child Protective Services’ care.
Abdulah could be heard shouting as authorities led him away in handcuffs on Friday, blaming his daughter for his and his wife’s arrest, according to San Antonio Express-News.
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