Rania Farrah* was just like any other ordinary Australian teenage girl.
Like most kids her age, her biggest concerns were trying to get away with not doing homework, and deciding where to go out with her friends on the weekend.
But when she was only 13-years-old, Rania’s life changed.
Rania’s family told her she was going on a trip to Egypt. But instead, after leaving Australia, she was held captive by her own father in Syria. She was horrifically beaten and emotionally abused.
And she was told she had to marry her second cousin, a man in his 30s.
But the scary thing about Rania’s story is that it’s not the only case of something like this happening. She is not the only underage Australian girl being forced to marry a man many years her senior.
This evening’s episode of Channel 9’s 60 Minutes explored this practice, and helped give Rania a voice to share her traumatising story.
Rania’s mother Margaret met Rania’s father in Australia, but the couple moved to Saudi Arabia soon after their marriage. According to Rania, it was a violent relationship, and she remembers that her dad “used to beat my mum. He never beat us… [but] he beat my mum all the time.”
When Rania was eight-years-old, Margaret and her five young children fled to Australia – leaving their father behind. The family’s life changed for the better. They lived with Margaret’s “true blue Aussie” family, as Rania described them in the interview, and for many years they only heard from her father occasionally by telephone.
But when she was 13, Rania’s older brother said he would take her on a trip to Egypt for a holiday. After one week in Egypt, however, Rania was taken to Jordan to see her father.
Almost immediately, her passport was confiscated, and Rania was told she would be living with his family now.
Rania spoke with her mother over the phone every three weeks, and begged her mother to bring her back to Australia. Each time she was told, “We can’t afford it” or “One more year.”
Her new family controlled every aspect of her life; and when Rania was 17, she was told that she would marry her second cousin in Syria. The man was more than 15 years her senior.
“We never spoke, ever. I’d never make eye contact with him. I just met him on family visits and served coffee and tea,” she says of her relationship with him. “I went along with it. I did all the things I needed to do. We had the engagement party, I got given the gold, the money to go buy all the clothes that newlywed women buy, and I did it all and put on the face and… I didn’t feel anything, because by that stage I was already planning my escape.”
Through a young girl who lived next door, Rania was secretly given the British Embassy’s phone number. When she called them, she was told she would have to wait until she was 18 to make an escape.
She so waited. And waited. And when she finally turned 18, she organised to meet an official in a safe location.
Rania says that it was her “one and only” chance.