Child Bride Naila Amin Details Harrowing Experience of Being Wed at 13

Naila Amin, Child Marriage

During a trip to Pakistan for her brother’s wedding, a 13-year-old Naila Amin found herself stuck in a forced marriage to her adult cousin in a traditional nikah ceremony.

Amin’s uncle, claimed her for his 21-year-old son when she was only eight years old, since then, and against all odds, she survived the marriage and was able to break free.

She now works at the Naila Amin Foundation and hopes to raise enough money to open a shelter for girls and women who are escaping abusive situations. Amin also shares her story with politicians in an effort to give them the information they need to vote for the necessary laws to create change.

According to statistics compiled by Unchained at Last, the only nonprofit in the U.S. working towards ending forced and/or child marriage, an estimated 248,000 children as young as 12 were married in the U.S. between 2000 and 2010. More than 85 percent of these victims are girls and 77 percent of those girls were married to adult men with large age gaps. Child marriage in the U.S. is on the decline but we can only get rid of this practice if every state passes the laws to end it.

I had the honor of interviewing Amin, and after learning we were both from Astoria, N.Y. we decided to meet at a quiet hookah bar on Steinway Street.

Brown Girl in Astoria

Amin came to the U.S. from Pakistan when she was four years old with her two older brothers, baby sister and one sibling that was still on the way. Following her move, she said she had a confused upbringing and struggled at first with adjusting to cultural norms.

“I remember I got bullied a lot for being a brown girl,” she said. “When I got my nose ring in the second grade it was like ‘eww eww,’ but by the time fifth grade rolled along they were like you are the coolest thing on earth.”

However, as her cultural understanding improved with the growing number of South Asian and Arab immigrants what was once strange territory quickly became a familiar home.  

“I love Steinway Street, the shopping, the food is amazing,” she added. “We have our own little community here, I feel at home.”

An unapologetic woman was once an unapologetic little girl

Amin was only 10 years old when she first called child protective services on her parents after they beat her for lying to hang out with a boy. This would not be her last time calling CPS for help.  

“The first time I got taken away was because I told my dad I was going to a friend’s house by the mosque but I was hanging out with this boy from Bangladesh,” Amin said. “The girl I was supposedly hanging out with called my house and said: ‘Is Naila there?’ So the red flags went up, [and when] I got home, I got a beating.”

“I remember I called CPS the next morning, I was 10 years old,” she added. “But even since then, even at that age, I knew I was not settling for this crap. They took me away and I went to Elmhurst they did a rape kit because a lot of kids that get physically abused get sexually abused. But they put me with my aunt for three months and my parents got custody of me again.”

Naila Amin


Amin spent many of her early adolescent years going back and forth between Pakistan and New York, she eventually skipped the eighth grade and spent most of that time in Pakistan for her brother’s wedding.

It was during this time that her own marriage took place. Although this was what her family wanted for her and believed was right, Amin knew this was not her fate and that this was not a true consensual marriage. When she came back to New York she started high school in Baldwin, N.Y. where she describes meeting her first love, a Dominican boy named Eddie.

“He was really nice. He was like my first love, he took care of me. When my parents found out they beat me, they cuffed me by my ankles,” Amin said. “I had to run away from the bathroom window, [since] they would cuff me in the house.”

Her then boyfriend took her to a school social worker, shortly after the meeting she was put in the foster care system. She describes her time there as confusing, many people did not understand her or her culture.

In early October, when Amin was about to turn 15, she ran away from foster care back to the familiarity of her family, and after these events, Amin’s family convinced her it was best to go back to Pakistan – promising that the situation between them would get better.

“So I turned 15 in Pakistan, and the next thing I know, we’re shopping for lenghas which is wedding attire,” she said. “I couldn’t do a damn thing because I was stuck. It was either foster care or this, but if I had known then I would’ve chosen foster care.“

The following January, Amin was forced to finally live with her husband. She recalls this time period with him as traumatizing and enslaving, having to cook, clean and sleep with her rapist. She would fake an illness just to keep her husband from touching her.

“It took something from me I would never get back. My childhood, my innocence was taken from me, my body and soul,” Amin said. “To this day I still live on meds to deal with what I went through. I mean I‘m doing much better, I go to therapy but I will always be traumatized I will always have that scar.”

She describes trying to run away, and when she was caught her husband would beat her and psychologically torment her. Even her uncle attempted to get involved and was shamed by the family for it, luckily he contacted CPS about the situation but there was little that could be done while in Pakistan.

Coming Home

Amin came back to the U.S. after spending several months with her husband. Upon her arrival, she found out that because her parents took her to Pakistan when they were no longer considered her legal guardians, they were arrested for kidnapping.

And in this scary moment, she found her first real breath of freedom.

Since then Amin moved back in with her parents at 18 and they have been working towards repairing their family.

Because of her story, Amin’s sisters were able to live normal healthy childhoods and didn’t have to worry about child marriage. She has since been going to therapy regularly and looking for ways to reach people, trying different things like working as an emergency technician before transitioning to the nonprofit world, where she worked with organizations such as Women for Afghan Women and Unchained.

In 2015, a representative from Women for Afghan Women reached out to her for a story on forced marriage, since then she has shared her stories on several platforms, helping to move the needle on changing the legal age of marriage in the U.S. to 18. Amin traveled state to state and shared her story with different senators, and in June 2017 New York changed the age of consent for marriage from age 14 to 17 with judicial review.


Healing while Helping

She has been shamed by people in her family and community for being unapologetically herself, and she often feels guilt but knows that she has to share her truth to help others.  

“I know that a lot of people look down on me,” Amin said. “I don’t like family gatherings cause they’re always like you’re bashing your parents or culture, or this and that. No, I’m not, I always tell people we have a happy ending.”

Although turning her pain into purpose is still frustrating, she has made it a point to put her health and self first to make sure she is in a strong state to help.

“I have in the past year learned to say no. Because I can’t be at your beckon call, and help you, going to different states and testify to help pass laws,” she added. “I am still healing, I am testifying to help pass laws and these changes are happening and I don’t even get any credit. But here I am putting my heart out to senators and legislators.”

What to do if you find yourself or someone you know in a similar situation

“If she calls CPS and there’s no abuse in the house they can’t do anything. There’s no law against taking your kid on vacation,” she explained. “I met Jasvinder Sanghera of Karma Nirvana. So what I adopted from Karma Nirvana, and I tell women and girls, is to stuff your bra with screws, metal, quarters, anything that’s going to make the machine go off to get you a personal screening. You tell that TSA officer two words, human trafficking, I am being trafficked. The minute you say that they have to step in.”

To hear that a woman who lived a parallel life to many others in the U.S. was a victim of child marriage is a shock to many. Amin’s story is important to share as stories of abuse are often hidden, which only further allows it to happen.

We often consider problems like child marriage an international issue outside of the U.S. borders, but few are aware of our justice systems’ loopholes and lack of regulations when it comes to the minimum age for marriage.

It’s imperative that women are present and our voices are heard. We must come together to support each other and help each other share our experiences to empower ourselves to make a change.

If you want to learn more about forced child marriage follow Unchained at Last and The Naila Amin Foundation – both organizations are involved in the footwork of ending forced child marriage state by state and always informing and taking in allies and volunteers.

By Kashafa Khan

Kashafa Khan is a designer and illustrator based in New York. She is on the activist council for Planned Parenthood … Read more ›

South Asian Masculinity and Mental Health: Can we Find a new way Forward?

toxic masculinity

What is South Asian masculinity?

Masculinity and mental health have come under greater scrutiny by researchers, particularly as traditional masculinity is often cited as the reason why men are less willing to reach out for support regarding psychological issues. However, the influence of masculine norms on well-being has been insufficiently viewed through an intersectional lens and is understudied within South Asian mental health. From a South Asian context, traditional masculinity can include focusing on material success while displaying suppressed emotionality, which can be manifested through anger or practicing other harmful behaviors.

[Read Related: Brown Boys Do Cry: How Toxic Masculinity Screws With Us, Too]

In order to understand its influence, it is critical to examine the impact of traditional paradigms of masculinity across the diaspora. For instance, some traits associated with traditional masculinity among South Asian men include displaying control over others. A Sri-Lanka-based study found that most male participants “associated manhood with dominance…” A Forbes India article asserted how boys in India are “taught to … apply themselves to the task of growing up to be a strong, unwavering support system for their families,” which in turn forces them to be silent about topics that may make them seem weak. This pattern of behavior becomes manifested in a particularly harmful way because boys grow up with the inability to handle their emotions or formulate healthy coping strategies during challenging circumstances. 

These norms can have drastic implications and harm other community members. For instance, a focus group conducted among Nepali men found that failure to deliver for their household economically as breadwinners eventually resulted in heated disputes, which escalated and led them to engage in domestic violence. The presence of domestic violence can also be observed through media stories on the pervasiveness of gender-based harm within South Asian communities, as seen in the murder of Sania Khan. 

Traditional masculinity also hides the wounds that South Asian men may be battling within themselves. One paper asserts that for a sizable number of Indian men, “…sadness and despair find a distorted manifestation in destructive behaviors that deny their emotional pain to themselves and to others.” Thus, performing conventionally masculine behaviors can mask deeper mental health issues. 

Repercussions of South Asian masculinity on mental health

Because of the pressure to adhere to such strict standards of conduct, traditional masculinity has significant, greater repercussions for mental health and well-being. For instance, because of the narrow ability of men to compartmentalize their feelings, this restrictive emotionality can result in an inability for others to recognize their mental health issues, thus failing to target the deeper causes of men’s behavior. Furthermore, men themselves might engage in fewer help-seeking behaviors. This is also further complicated due to gaps in culturally competent services that can serve South Asian men when they do utilize support systems. 

Additional social forces experienced by South Asian men might explain mental health outcomes, particularly when considering the role of immigration. Among South Asian American men in the United States, one study noted that “a lower social position” within their community was linked to higher distress, indicating how critical it was for first-generation men to be leaders and actively participate in their ethnic community’s organizations. Thus, social expectations of men within South Asian communities influenced their well-being, as did their social status and relative power. 

What we can do to change the status quo on South Asian masculinity and mental health 

In order to ensure that men in South Asian cultures can embrace their mental health, it is important to formulate a prudent, welcoming paradigm that encourages greater help-seeking behaviors. Greater attention to this topic can also contribute to theories on feminist and sociocultural therapeutic frameworks, which both offer the following includes suggested remedies:  

Challenging gender stereotypes and encouraging mental health care as a means to discuss issues about well-being

It is imperative to encourage South Asian men to show more emotion, thus changing the existing narrative and social pressure they face to limit the expression of their feelings. Fortunately, there is a platform, known as @BrownManTherapy, that posts content about the struggles South Asian men experience. Furthermore, therapy ought to be recommended as a means to deal with mental health concerns, which should be combined with support from the community. 

More South Asian male clinicians

In addition to instituting changes in community norms, there needs to be more diverse representation in the mental health field. In doing so, there will be greater platforms to have conversations about the negative repercussions of traditional masculinity that are unique to South Asian men. Furthermore, it is critical to challenge the social stigma that mental health is a female-dominated profession or that seeking therapy is emasculating. 

More research studies examining cross-cultural differences in masculinity across South Asian cultures

The connection between masculinity and mental health ought to be investigated much further. Studies should particularly assess masculinity within non-white contexts in order to examine the standards of manhood across several communities and truly understand the unique stressors men face across different cultural backgrounds.

[Read Related: These 5 South Asian Men Are Opening up About Their Mental Health and Toxic Masculinity]

While the connection between South Asian masculinity and mental health is not discussed among psychology professionals, it is critical to study the association since it plays a role in South Asian gender inequities and in mental health behaviors among South Asian men. More broadly, given the prevalence of intimate partner violence within the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities and the role of patriarchal norms in inflicting this harm, it is now more important than ever to reimagine expectations surrounding men’s behavior. 

By further examining the problems caused by adherence to traditionally masculine norms and implementing certain solutions, these ideas can be challenged and dismantled to create a progressive and more inclusive model of manhood. Above all, identifying and eradicating toxic ideas rooted in traditional South Asian masculinity will lead to liberation for all people.

If you need additional resources, please visit:

Photo: Shutterstock/Roxanne 134

paritosh joshi
By Paritosh Joshi

Paritosh Joshi is a graduate student in Clinical Psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University. His background includes a Master of … Read more ›

‘The Black Rose’: British Asian Shweta Aggarwal Voices her Truth Against Colourism and the Battle to end her Skin Whitening Cream Addiction

Black Rose

I was a mere 14-year old on the fateful night of 22 April 1993. The night that witnessed black teenager Stephen Lawrence brutally murdered in a racially motivated attack as he waited for a bus. The night that cemented my fear, that the colour of my skin does matter. The same night that confirmed my indifference as a British Asian in the United Kingdom — were we really united? Fast forward to May 25 2020, the murder of African-American George Floyd by a white policeman was the turning point for British Asian author and my lovely friend, Shweta Aggarwal to finally break her silence and narrate her story of colourism, in her new book, “The Black Rose.” 

Aggarwal’s gripping memoir emits so many emotions; that of an awakening, a voice that has been suppressed for years, filled with anger, mistrust and guilt. But most importantly, “The Black Rose” successfully disrupts the narrative that consistently allows society to box someone as indifferent based on a visibility factor. For Shweta, this factor was the colour of her skin. The injustices she consistently endured via some family members and fellow South Asian peers throughout her life, was as a result of her skin tone failing to qualify as ‘acceptable’, or as she often quotes in her book, not ranking high enough on the ‘fairometer.’ Whether she was in India, Japan or London, the scale was never too far behind. 

[Read Related: Liam Neeson’s Week of Rage is Every Person of Colour’s Truth]

Within the first chapter, she recalls as a child in India, the distinct lack of subtlety displayed by certain family members through direct taunts of her duskier appearance in comparison to her parents. She realised that she wasn’t in complete isolation from this prejudice, as her maternal aunt and uncle were also harshly nicknamed on the basis of their skin colour — Kaali (black) and Savla (wheatish). Aggarwal was left mortified by what many South Asians sadly still continue to casually exercise. Echoing similar incidents within my social proximity, it’s infuriating witnessing the recipients of such remarks surrender to laughing at themselves too. 

Except it isn’t funny. Born into a culture where conversations on religion, caste and hierarchy in India are still so prominent, the comparison of Aggarwal’s skin colour being as dark as that of the domestic help (often from poorer families), prematurely planted seeds in her mind that she simply didn’t belong with her family, especially  when she was sent to boarding school. Her lack of self-worth coupled with these taunts, gave her a whole new vocabulary for the letter B, that grew in parallel with the ongoing prejudice and anxiety. B for blackie, beggar’s child, bedwetter! Not funny, but derogatory. Post her book launch that Brown Girl Magazine attended, she tells me,

I personally feel we are way behind when it comes to understanding the importance of mental health. Name-calling was normalised and if you objected, you were ridiculed further with remarks such as ‘So sensitive! Can’t you take a joke?’ Body and colour shaming can lead to a feeling of inadequacy in the victim, which can further lead to depression and much worse mental illnesses.

During the 1984 Hindu Sikh riots in India, where over 3000 Sikhs lost their lives, Aggarwal recollects the frightening moment when she and her classmates fled into hiding to escape the violence during a school trip. As a means to save all the students from harm, the Sikh boys were forced to remove their turbans and long hair — their visible identities stripped to keep them alive. Yet, ironically, even in this horrifying situation, Aggarwal felt least at risk, attributing this self-assurance to her darker appearance. 

The crux of her self-loathe was the love-hate relationship she formed with skin whitening creams. The birth of Fair and Lovely, India’s most renown brand (now known as Glow and Lovely following a backlash) was notorious for selling the damaging message that fairer skin equated to a happier and fulfilling life. For it was fairer skin women that would qualify for marriage — clearly their only sole purpose! 

Tactfully using famous fair-skinned Bollywood actresses in television ads and posters, their so-called perfection would scream out to vulnerable young girls. (Men were targeted much later on, but the importance seemed less). Akin to the wretched beach body posters plastered on every corner in January — because apparently bikinis only look good on a certain body type —  the damaging message remains the same. Social acceptance comes at a cost, and that cost is to look a certain way. 

[Read Related: Dear Priyanka Chopra, Endorsing Colorism and Discrimination is not ok. It Never was and Never Will Be]

It’s an extension of the dated methods imposed on women from the womb, where mothers are lectured on drinking milk with saffron to ensure the baby is fair, traditional matrimonial sites asking women to specify skin colour, and women being told to stay out of the sun. These socially ingrained views are eventually developed into modern day methods in the form of cleverly marketed consumables. Aggarwal admits, 

Most people only use the cream on their face just as I did. At that time, I didn’t even think about the rest of the body. I felt that if the face becomes fairer, that will be enough for acceptance. My mum noticed the difference for sure and I was lighter by the time I met my husband, Amit. I must admit the addiction is a combination of three factors: the justification in your own head, the strong marketing message that ONLY fair is beautiful, and the ‘compliments’ from those around you. 

I admired Shweta’s honesty on admitting what essentially was a dangerous obsession that she remained faithful to throughout her teenage and adult life. A ritual that, whilst prompted gradual results in her appearance, was never going to eliminate the insecurities she felt within herself. Moments of joy with her husband and children on holidays abroad, would be broken up by the need to ‘fix’ any damage the sun may have inflicted i.e. reverse her tan. The booming tanning industry in U.K., her now home, and admiration of her ‘sun-kissed’ look by Brits initially surprised Aggarwal — as if her colour had now gained acceptance. 

But who are we seeking acceptance from? A society that is still deep rooted in patriarchy forcing women even now to adhere to dated rites of passage that holds no relevance? Or a society that seeks to point out one’s indifference because of how they look — their skin, their religious attire, their weight? Or a society that passes judgement on a woman’s self-worth, and continues to abuse that same woman behind closed doors under the eyes of Goddess Kali? Aggarwarl goes on to explain,

The more damaging perceptions of colourism, are that ‘fair is rich’, ‘fair is successful’ and ‘fair is better educated’. Essentially, ‘fair is supreme’ in every sense. And if that’s the case, where does that leave dark-skinned people? In Ukraine, for example black and brown people were discriminated against and  not given a fair chance to save their lives. Is it fair to be denied a basic human right — survival — based on your colour? 

I personally was curious to know from my family what the definition of prejudice in the Hindi vocabulary is and how it is/was applied to in India. “Pakshappat” (taking sides) or “poorva dhaarna”, were the closest pure Hindi definitions known to my cousin, yet rarely used. However, my dad stated that “hum bedh bhau nahin hai” was the common term used to state amongst family and friends when someone was not biased and believed in equality. Somehow, colourism never really came under that category. A sentiment echoed by some of my Chinese and black friends . Even in parts of China and Africa, the belief that darker skin is perceived as inferior, is accredited to stereotyping certain groups of people as manual labourers working under the sun, and therefore of a lower class or caste. Does Shweta believe we can change this attitude?  

A couple of my aunts are still reluctant to help me with my mission. One even said ‘it’s pointless fighting it’, while one said, ‘everyone has the right to define beauty for themselves and being fairer is what beauty is for some.’ The problem with this is that people then start to look down on people who aren’t. Colourism, casteism and classism divide people, creating more unrest in society. If we continue to aspire to be fairer, we’re still encouraging white skin privilege, and encouraging colonial values. The more we allow ourselves to succumb to these social constructs, the more enslaved we feel internally. Melanin is crucial for protecting our skin against the harmful radiation of the sun. Feel blessed that you have it and wear it with pride! 

I wonder how we can dare to walk shoulder to shoulder with our black friends in the Black Lives Matter movement, if we refuse to face up to our own biases against colour? We seek equality in the U.K., but deny our deep-rooted prejudice, whilst a white privileged man lectures the world on the difference between racism and unconscious bias (yes Prince Harry, I’m looking at you!). “The Black Rose” has paved a way for many more voices to speak out against the damaging impact of colourism, and in my view, rightly belongs under the definition of prejudice in the collective South Asian vocabulary.

“The Black Rose” is available to purchase on Amazon.


Photo Courtesy: Shweta Aggarwal

By Sejal Sehmi

Brown Girl Magazine’s U.K. Editor Sejal Sehmi is an IT consultant by day, whose passion for writing stemmed from challenging … Read more ›

Painful Sex is More Common Than you Think

Close up on couple having intimacy moments

Ten to 28% of the world’s population of women experience painful sex. Keep in mind, that this is just what is reported. As embarrassing and as vulnerable as you may feel, you are absolutely not alone. The good news is that in addition to your traditional medical care to treat painful sex (also known as dyspareunia) such as medication, injections and surgery — a conservative approach is effective and long-lasting. Conservative care ranges from pelvic floor physical therapy, chiropractic care and acupuncture which are beneficial in treating the root cause of painful sex, as well as symptoms, for long-term healing. 

Some of the signs to look out for if you experience pain are:

  1. Deep pain/burning during or after sex
    • Pain descriptors: sharp, stabbing, deep, dull, burning
  2. Vaginal Dryness
  3. Low Libido
  4. Tightening at the vaginal opening

[Read Related: 12 Beliefs About Sex That South Asians Need to Throw Out the Window]

Treatment Options 

Treatment options for painful sex such as pelvic floor physical therapy, chiropractic care and acupuncture provide a long-lasting and profound effect on the pelvic floor and address your entire physical well-being.

The pelvic floor is a layer of muscles that range from the pubic bone to the tailbone. The purpose of these muscles is to assist in bowel and bladder control, support a baby during pregnancy and contribute to sexual sensations. Just like any other muscle in your body, these pelvic floor muscles can become tight or weak which can be a contributing factor to pain.

Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy

Pelvic floor therapy can assist by strengthening and relaxing the muscles which is necessary to relieve pain during sex. 

[Read Related: My Awkward First Time at the Gyno]

Chiropractic Physician

Chiropractors can be extremely beneficial with assisting in helping relieve pain. Associated pain and discomfort can originate from the lower back and buttock muscles. Chiropractors are trained in taking a history and performing a neurological, orthopedic and soft tissue examination to identify treatment options. Deep tissue massage, skin rolling, Active Release Technique, muscle energy technique, ice, heat and electrical stimulation are just to name a few.


Acupuncture can activate the human dopamine system which helps regulate hormone levels and can assist in psychological factors. Acupuncture can improve mood, decrease pain and can be vastly beneficial in managing pain and mental health symptoms. 

Ask for help

“Everyone is having pelvic pain and no one is talking about it”

  1. Start with seeing your gynecologist who you trust for a history and examination of current symptoms to rule out any other medical conditions that could be a contributing factor to symptoms. 
  2. Locate a pelvic floor physical therapist through Apta Pelvic Health or Pelvic Rehab.  
  3. Locate proper chiropractic care that is trained as a licensed acupuncturist; look for credentials such as DC, LAc. 

[Read Related: Not Your Auntie’s Tips: 5 Sex Myths Busted]

How to talk to your partner about this in a safe/healthy way

Being open with your partner about your symptoms and painful sex may seem like a difficult conversation. Intercourse should never be painful and learning when to stay ‘stop’ is important in communication. Talking about pain before, during and after sex is important also in your own health diagnosis to see if pain symptoms are improving or becoming worse. Having open communication does not only benefit your relationship but most importantly, your own health.

To experience these symptoms may seem taboo or unheard of but quite frankly, they are common in many women. Women deserve to be directed to proper healthcare. 

Disclaimer: These are based on recommendations from a board-certified chiropractic physician and licensed acupuncturist. If symptoms become new or worse, consult with a primary care physician and or OBGYN to co-manage symptoms.


Reference: Tayyeb M, Gupta V. Dyspareunia. [Updated 2022 Jun 11]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from:


Photo by anushkaniroshan stock photo ID: 2071991336

jasmine bhoola
By Jasmine Bhoola

Jasmine Bhoola DC, LAC - A chiropractic physician and licensed acupuncturist in Midtown East Manhattan. A graduate from the University … Read more ›