A Scots woman forced into marrying a relative in Pakistan against her will while still a teenager has spoken for the first time of the abuse she has suffered.

Sara, who still fears for her life if her true identity or whereabouts are revealed, was beaten, threatened and coerced until she agreed to leave university and travel to Pakistan with her parents.

She made her decision to speak out as support agencies revealed a surge in the reported numbers of women fleeing forced marriage.

Loading article content

According to a new report, women's support agencies in Scotland have seen a surge in the numbers of cases reported since new legislation to deal with forced marriage was introduced in 2011 by the Scottish Parliament. Since the new law was introduced some support agencies have seen their referrals double.

Under the legislation courts in Scotland can issue protection orders specifically tailored to a victim's needs, for example by ensuring they are taken to a place of safety or by helping those in danger of being taken abroad for marriage.

Breaching such an order is a criminal offence, punishable by a fine, a two-year prison sentence or both.

Mridul Wadhwa, information and education officer at Shakti Women's Aid, said: "The numbers of reports of forced marriage in Scotland have gone up significantly.

"The referrals from people who suspect forced marriage has also increased, but we still need more agencies - particularly schools and universities - to pick up on the warning signs and notify the authorities earlier."

Despite the constant threat of violence hanging over her, Sara has taken the decision to speak out because she wants other young people to know it is possible to escape such situations.

"As a child my parents wanted me to cook, clean and sew," she says. "I wasn't allowed out. When I went to university people from the Asian community spied on me at their request. They heard I had been speaking to boys and, even though I wouldn't have dared to have a boyfriend, they freaked out and pulled me out of university.

She added: "I was so upset. I desperately wanted an education. So I ran away and went into hiding. They found me, begged me to come home and promised that they had changed. My mother was crying. I gave in.

"I went home and my father beat me immediately. They knew once the police had gone they could do whatever they wanted. I knew then that there was no way out. I was sent to Pakistan where they arranged for me to marry a relative. There was nowhere to go, no way out. I hated the idea of it."

In Pakistan, Sara became pregnant but she persuaded her in-laws to let her have the baby back in Scotland.

"They were pleased because it meant their son could get a visa," she explains. "I was hoping that once I got back I could find a way out.

"By then I despised my husband. He hit me regularly. He beat me while I was holding the baby. I fell.

"My mother was there and she just said to him gently that he shouldn't do that - as if he had done nothing."

Support agencies like Shakti regularly see physical and psychological abuse as a common component of forced marriage.

They say the only cases of forced marriage usually in the media are those involving honour killings - but that the more common daily reality for victims involves threats of being ostracised from the family, bringing shame on loved ones, being cut off financially or hurt physically.

In some cases it goes much further. Last year, a couple from Warrington, near Chester, were convicted of murdering their daughter in a "honour killing".

Iftikhar and Farzana Ahmed choked 17-year-old Shafilea to death because her Westernised ways outraged them.

They then wove a web of lies to cover up their crime, claiming she had run away.

They were each sentenced to at least 25 years. The judge, Mr Justice Roderick Evans, said: "Your concern about being shamed in your community was greater than the love of your child."

Once back in Scotland, Sara consulted solicitors and the Home Office. She worked and studied simultaneously and saved up enough money to apply for a divorce from her husband.

"I moved out and we lived separately," she says. "It took years to finally get a divorce. It was an expensive process and my family continued to pretend that we had not separated. My family had stopped speaking to me.

"I then met the man I am married to now and my family were furious. I had to go into hiding again in Scotland when it came out that I planned to marry.

"I knew the risks but I wanted to choose love and a new life over a life of hell."

But the fear of repercussions still hangs over her.

"I know that even now that talking about this puts my life at risk," says Sara. "But ultimately I want to help other young women to know there is a way out.

"I am studying again now. I have a new life and a great husband and family. I adore my children.

"A long time afterwards I asked my mother why they did not have me killed.

"She said it was because they did not want blood on their hands. They did not want to go to hell. Their reason had nothing to do with love.

"It is difficult to come to terms with that. But they are still my parents.

"I still go to counselling. I still need to work through this but I have my own principles and they are completely different."