LAHORE: At her small rented house in Manawala, Lahore, Iqra Saleem is thankful. Just 23, the young woman had already suffered enough pain and anguish to last a lifetime.
And that was before she got married to a Chinese national who she believes may have been trying to push her into a life of prostitution.
She married Xun Ziqiang, 24, on March 28. An exuberant celebration of the marriage was held in Chiniot, just after the nikah was held in the Kotha Pind area of Lahore. She said Xun had accepted Islam at Jamia Ashrafia Lahore on February 7, 2019, for which he was given an official certificate, but contrary to custom, he chose not to change his name.
Iqra said that after the wedding, she moved with her husband to a house in Defence, where she was surprised to learn that there were already seven or eight Chinese men and three Pakistani women living there. She said that the initial days were good, but soon her husband began abusing her, and when he made her accompany him to parties and work-related events, his friends and colleagues would misbehave with her.
She said that they had been waiting for the embassy to process her visa application so they could go to China when news started to circulate in the media that a number of Pakistani women had been forced into prostitution in China by their husbands. This terrified her and she decided not to go to China with her husband. She then feigned illness and managed to escape from the house.
Saleem’s life has been peppered with misery and distress. Her father, a security guard, left her mother when she was 8, married another woman, and dropped her off at an orphanage.
When she was 14 and still at the orphanage, she was married off to a relative. By the time she was 20, she was a mother of two and said she had begun to learn to enjoy her life. But just as her father abandoned his family, her husband abandoned his family and married another woman. He kicked her out of the house and she had to move in with her mother. Her mother had no income and her brother took her as a burden and soon started to abuse her.
After the harsh treatment at her mother’s house, she accepted a marriage proposal from a man from a ‘respectable’ family and went to Dubai with him. But her husband sold her to pimps in Dubai, who forced her into a life of prostitution. She said a young Indian man helped her escape to Pakistan.
Saleem said that when she went back to her mother’s house in Lahore after escaping from Dubai, she came to know that her mother had left the home. She also had no connection with the father, and only had Rs2,000 with her when she reached Lahore. She then went to Chiniot, where she started living with a family she knew and started looking for a job.
In Chiniot, a woman approached her with a proposal to marry a Chinese citizen, but Iqra was not particularly interested after two bad marital experiences. However, the family she was living with convinced her that going to China would give her a chance to start life anew and leave her past miseries behind.
Soon after, Xun and some friends came to the house with witnesses and a nikahkhwan in tow. Xun told her that he had accepted Islam around one month before the wedding and presented a certification from Jamia Ashrafia, Lahore.
According to Saleem, the woman who acted as a matchmaker was given Rs50,000 for her work while she was never given any money. “In fact, the haq mehar of Rs20,000 was also not given.
After the wedding, while at the house in Lahore, she saw the reports of Chinese nationals forcing Pakistani women to work in brothels. She made up her mind to flee after seeing later reports of Chinese nationals being arrested for such offences.
She went to her mother’s one-room house, where they both now live. Her brother works in Karachi but is not willing to support her and apparently refused to let her do any work while she is living in their mother’s house. Without any money, she claims she became dejected and made two unsuccessful suicide attempts.
Saleem said that she is going to begin legal divorce proceedings soon.
She added that Xun has been calling her and urging her to come back. After her latest refusal, he threatened to kill her, she said. Due to his threatening calls, she claims she went to the local police station with an application, but no one heard her.
The house where Saleem lived after the marriage is now empty. According to the owner of the house, the Chinese abruptly packed up and left the house, even leaving some luggage behind. “They have not paid their remaining rent or even come to collect their luggage.”
Dozens of Chinese nationals have been arrested in cases of fraudulent marriages to Pakistani women. As investigations to determine and arrest others involved continue, efforts also remain afoot to stop scammer and human traffickers from fooling people into such marriages.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 5th, 2019.
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