What kind of Pakistani are you

Deported from Germany to Pakistan : Zahra was forcibly married - a Facebook message saves her after 6 years

It is February when Zahra comes home from school and learns that she is to fly to Pakistan with her mother and brothers. It's not a vacation, Zahra doesn't want to miss anything at school. She doesn't want to come along - but she has to. The tickets were said to have been expensive. In addition, it is only for two weeks to visit family.

But the two weeks become two months. Mother and brothers leave again. Zahra stays in an aunt's house in a small town around 200 kilometers from Islamabad. The aunt says that Zahra should marry her son one day. Zahra doesn't take this seriously. She is twelve years old.

Six years later, a few days before Christmas 2018, after midnight, Zahra gets out of a plane from Islamabad in Berlin-Tegel. With a hand luggage bag.

"It's nice that you're here, Zahra," she said to her, Eva Kaiser recalls. And hugged them like they were old friends. For more than a year they had written to each other - and planned an escape. Zahra had not been in Germany for almost six years.

Zahra has long black hair and fake eyelashes that accentuate her large dark eyes. One day in November she came to the Tagesspiegel editorial office. She wants to tell her story. How she was forcibly married as a teenager in Pakistan, how she finally escaped. She has Eva Kaiser with her for reinforcement.

All of the women in this article actually have different names, but because they do not want to be recognized under any circumstances, they must be careful.

She is supposed to serve the husband and mother-in-law

Eva Kaiser, a woman in her sixties with laugh lines around her eyes, has been running the Papatya crisis facility for 25 years. This is the contact point for girls and young women with a migration background who are threatened by their families, experience violence at home or are supposed to be married against their will. Papatya has already sheltered more than 2,000 girls in a secret apartment. It has room for up to eight girls, and Zahra also lived there for a while after her arrival in Berlin. Most of them don't stay longer than three months, then they move to other residential facilities - if all goes well. Some return to their families in the hope that things will get better. "This is where the course is set," says Eva Kaiser, "a departure into the unknown or back to the old cruelty."

Zahra remembers the drive to her apartment across Berlin. The way she looked at the streets of the city and said to Eva Kaiser: “It seems like a dream to me that I'm back in Germany. But I also thought: Was I really gone six years? Pakistan was a different world. ”She finds it difficult to mentally go back there.

In her aunt's house, about a two-hour drive from Islamabad, she has to get up early, make breakfast, clean, cook and wash clothes. If she is “free”, she can watch TV. She doesn't go to school, is not allowed to go outside; she wears long robes typical of the country and always a headscarf. The aunt accuses Zahra of watching boys from the window. She beats the niece for it. On the phone, Zahra begs her father to take her home, he doesn't. More than three years pass in this way. She hasn't had a cell phone or her two passports for a long time.

In retrospect, everything is blurred for Zahra today, the days, weeks, and months were all the same.

The father kicks and hits her

Then the father will come after all. Zahra, now 16 years old, thinks he's going to get her. But everything is getting worse. She doesn't recognize her father. He insults, kicks and hits her, even threatens to kill her. The father tells her to marry her cousin, who is seven years her senior. Zahra doesn't want to, she hardly knows the man, he lives in Spain. But she hopes the beatings will stop then.

An imam is brought into the house and, in a video call, a wedding according to Islamic law is concluded between Zahra and her cousin. “I was happy that it happened quickly,” says Zahra. One day after the marriage, the father leaves. Zahra stays, as a married woman she doesn't get any more rights. On the contrary: As a daughter-in-law, she is subject to her aunt. Zahra doesn't dare to run away. She has no money, no friends and doesn't know her way around the country.

The thought that her family planned everything from the beginning only comes to Zahra years later.

The last official figures are from 2017, when 570 cases of completed or planned forced marriages were known in Berlin. The Berlin office against forced marriage had asked more than 1000 institutions from the area of ​​anti-violence as well as youth welfare offices, the police, schools and refugee shelters. Only 420 of them responded. So the data situation is bad. Eva Kaiser estimates that the number of unreported cases is many times higher.

She is good at school and likes to go

Zahra's case also almost went unnoticed. It is atypical, says Eva Kaiser, that Zahra stayed in Pakistan for six years. “The fact that the marriage took place in one of the parents' countries is by no means atypical.” Many of the forced marriages take place abroad because the girls there are hardly able to defend themselves. Some never come back from summer vacation, others come back but are different. Not all teachers notice this. The women's rights organization Terre des Femmes has published a guide on the Internet on how teachers can identify and possibly prevent forced marriages or other “violence in the name of honor”. A warning signal is therefore that previously happy girls - or even boys - are suddenly depressed and withdrawn and the grades worsened.

Zahra grew up in a city in North Rhine-Westphalia. Her family came to Germany from Pakistan when she was three years old. Her father works, something with car tires, Zahra doesn't know for sure. The mother is not allowed to go to work and wears a headscarf because the father wants it that way. Zahra doesn't have a good relationship with her.

The three little brothers adore their older sister. She is good at school and enjoys going there. The class teacher wants Zahra to be transferred to comprehensive school, perhaps to do her Abitur one day. “But my father just signed me up too late. He didn't care about my grades or which school I go to, ”says Zahra today.

Zahra attends secondary school, for example, which has a very bad reputation. It is located in a quarter that is considered a socially disadvantaged area, more than 80 percent of the students have a migration background. Zahra doesn't have to wear a headscarf, but a scarf that covers her neck. The parents keep telling her not to talk to boys. This annoys Zahra. There are boys among her friends, she doesn't understand the excitement.

Then she flies to Pakistan.

"Is that you? I don't believe it."

How she finally found the courage one day when she was home alone to take the aunt's unused cell phone out of the drawer in the living room, she no longer knows. The cell phone does not have a SIM card, but the WiFi works. She locks herself in the bathroom, creates a Facebook account under a false name and writes to her friend Deniz, whom she has not spoken to in years. Deniz is online.

"Who are you?"

"Zahra."

"What, is that you? I don't believe it, where are you? "

It's an autumn day and Deniz is helping out at her cousin's bakery. She smears buns as she reads Zahra's message. Deniz says she thought someone was playing a prank on her. After her friend hadn't returned from her vacation in Pakistan four years ago, Deniz kept asking Zahra's parents where she was, she said on the phone. But Zahra's parents had excuses.

“You once brought me earrings from Turkey,” Zahra now writes, as if to prove it. But Deniz wants certainty and persuades Zahra to make a video call.

She was "shocked" to see Zahra again, in her Pakistani clothes. “I stood there in front of the sandwiches with tears in my eyes,” Deniz remembers.

“Hang in there,” she says to the friend. Deniz contacts Papatya. That's how Eva Kaiser heard from Zahra for the first time. “The girl has to contact us herself,” says Eva Kaiser. Deniz passes the information on to Zahra.

She is afraid of being raped

When she secretly takes her cell phone again, she fills out a questionnaire at www.verschleppung.papatya.org. She writes that she had a Pakistani and a European passport. "The European one is still important," replies Eva Kaiser. Zahra, who grew up in Germany and feels German, does not have a German passport. What European citizenship she has should not be mentioned here so that she will not be recognized.

Eva Kaiser asks the youth welfare office in Zahra's hometown whether she exists and receives a confirmation and the corresponding passport number. There she also learns that Zahra's parents have de-registered her from school a few months after leaving for Pakistan. She doesn't know whether one of the teachers might have wondered why. Kaiser passes on the passport number of the embassy in Islamabad. The ambassador feels responsible and wants to help. But just drive 200 kilometers to the aunt's house and pick up the girl, that won't do. Zahra should come to Islamabad herself. Almost a year has passed in the meantime. Again and again Deniz advises Zahra: "Run away!", But Zahra doesn't dare.

Until she gets caught with the cell phone.

The aunt, who she thought wasn't in the house, sees Zahra sitting on the couch with her cell phone. Zahra runs into the bathroom, deletes her Facebook account, the aunt screams and pounds on the door.

She accuses her of having contact with a boy. Zahra says, yes, that's right, a boy. Better than telling you about your planned escape. The aunt strikes, the cousins ​​and uncle also strike her, speaking of shame. They throw Zahra out of the house - only to want to catch her again shortly afterwards. Zahra escapes with nothing but an empty pocket. It is evening and already dark. Zahra is afraid of being raped. She says: "I was lucky."

She doesn't say what exactly happened

For a day and a night Zahra doesn't know where to go. She doesn't say what exactly happened. Eva Kaiser believes that she is ashamed, even if there is nothing to be ashamed of. The police finally picked them up. He doesn't tell her where she lives. So they bring her to a home for “women without honor,” as Zahra calls it. It's a closed home; once a week she is allowed to make phone calls and use the Internet. She stays there for a couple of weeks.

If she doesn't hear from Zahra, Eva Kaiser worries. She organizes that the embassy in Islamabad receives Zahra. She can stay there for a little longer than a month, even if she has to, because as a minor she is not allowed to apply for a passport to leave the country.

A few days after her 18th birthday her flight goes to Berlin.

When Zahra entered Papatya's apartment for the first time that December night, the other girl was already sleeping in her new room. In the kitchen she has another tea with Eva Kaiser, who explains everything to her and introduces her to the night shift worker. Zahra remembers going to bed with mixed feelings. Nobody showed her how to live her life independently. She starts psychotherapy, but stops again. Maybe later.

"Zahra is where she belongs"

The Islamic marriage with her cousin is void in Germany. She did not contact her parents. She doesn't want it, even if she misses her parents and brothers. Deniz says she met Zahra's mother on the street a few months ago, this time the mother asked her where Zahra was. "Zahra is where she belongs," Deniz told her. “I keep finding that the families who send their daughters away are not even aware of any wrongdoing,” says Eva Kaiser. “They think their daughter is theirs. What your parents did is against the law, you know that, right? ”Eva Kaiser strokes her hair over Zahra's shoulders. Zahra nods.

She is just about to take the final examination of her vocational qualification, which corresponds to a secondary school leaving certificate. “I want to achieve something quickly, I've lost six years. I wish I had come earlier, could have gone to a normal school, ”says Zahra. But learning is difficult for her. Really arriving in Germany, in a strange city, is difficult for her. She still doesn't feel really free.

To home page