‘The people who should have loved me hurt me for life.’
These are the heartbreaking words of 36-year-old Mashid Rezai who, as an 11-year-old, set herself on fire to avoid an arranged marriage to a father-of-two 24 years her senior.
Mashid, who now lives in London, is sharing her heart-breaking story in the hopes of helping others and highlighting the plight of millions of child brides across the globe facing forced marriages to older men.
She says that, while still in hospital recovering from her injuries, she was violently beaten by her father for ‘shaming’ her family.
Despite heavy physical scarring throughout her body, Mashid survived and now lives in London. She recalls to the Daily Mail that, less than one year before her own attempted suicide, she watched a friend, nine-year-old Zainab, do the same after she “was asked for” by a much older man.
Zainab was so desperate to escape the impending wedding she set herself alive “and she died,”
says Mashid with tears welling in her eyes.
When the same fate visited her, Mashid didn’t believe her parents would go through with it, “ “But when I saw my family preparing food and setting out tables, I knew really it was going to happen.” she tells the Daily Mail.
I was panicking,’ she explained. “I just wanted to escape so I tried to kill myself. My father had lots of weapons and I considered using them but I chose fire because I was following what my friend Zainab had done.”
Mashid poured paraffin on her skirt and lit a match. “My skirt caught fire. When I saw the fire, it was intense and very real. I regretted it. I tried to put the fire out with my hands,” she adds.
‘I tried to get out but I had shut the door and it was difficult. I was panicking. The flame was raging and was burning my face.
“I could see flames in my hair. I managed to get out into the courtyard. A neighbour was on the flat roof next door. He saw me and jumped down. I don’t know what happened after that.”
For the next three months, Mashid remained unconscious in hospital. Her wounds were slow to heal and her intense pain even slower to heal.
Despite this, she was beaten by her father and punched in the face by her mother, and when she returned home, she was rejected by the older man who once wanted to marry her. Burned and broke, Mashid was now considered too “dirty” and “ugly” to be his bride.
She says her father now considered her so ugly, he wanted her killed and recalls overhearing him saying he wanted “me to be taken to a hospital and killed with an injection.”
Understandably, Mashid realised only she would take care of herself, so she ran away to Tehran where, thankfully, she was taken in by a kindly plastic surgeon. Decades later lives a safer – and happier – life in London where, she says, nobody points or throws stones at her.
Today, Mashid works with London’s Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation to help vulnerable women, many of whom are also victims of violence.