LONG ISLAND — Naila Amin moved to Long Island from Pakistan when she was 4-years-old. When she was eight, she said her father promised her for marriage to a 21-year-old cousin in her native land.
“I went from collecting stickers to losing it all,” the now 27-year old Amin sobbed to PIX11. “I lost my childhood.”
The first “I do’s” were handled by Amin's father when she was just 13, she said. Amin wasn’t physically involved with her husband or even living with him at that point
She began dating a Latino classmate after starting classes at a Long Island high school.
“And according to my religion, I was committing adultery,” Amin recalled. Her father had already sealed the initial marriage agreement with her cousin’s family.
Amin shared her story with PIX11 several days after New York State changed the law concerning minors getting married.
Teens below the age of 17 can no longer get married in New York. A 17-year-old would need parental and judicial permission.
“It’s a children’s rights issue,” said Carol Smolenski, executive director of End Child Prostitution and Trafficking (ECPAT USA). “How do we protect people under 18 years old?”
ECPAT has made the abolition of child marriage an international issue, Smolenski told PIX11. She talked about a U.S. State Department report that discusses how to better protect adolescent girls, which focused a lot on the issue of child marriage.
"The U.S. is the only country in the world that has not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child," Smolenski said.
Nearly 3,900 minors under the age of 18 got married in New York between 2000 and 2010.
They came from a cross-section of religious backgrounds.
And while New York’s new law was passed on June 8th — with Governor Andrew Cuomo putting out a statement applauding the new legislation—Governor Chris Christie in New Jersey wants lawmakers there to amend a bill they passed last month.
The New Jersey law would have banned marriages for people under age 18.
Gov. Christie signed a conditional veto, noting that the bill was not taking into account some religious customs.
"It is disingenuous to hold that a 16 year old may never consent to marriage, although New Jersey law permits the very same 16 year old to consent to sex or obtain an abortion without so much as parental knowledge, let alone consent," Christie said. "That inconsistency in logic undercuts the alleged logic of an outright ban.”
Naila Amin, who said she was forced to have sexual relations with her husband shortly after turning 15, said the ordeal left her “scarred….the way a cow gets marked.”
She had tried telling her husband, who was 28 at the time, that she was a lesbian. She ran away 10 days after being brought to his house in Pakistan.
He tracked her down, beat her and raped her, Amin said. She was saved after three months because her uncle notified U.S. authorities.
Her mother was arrested for kidnapping after she returned to New York from Pakistan. Amin’s family convinced the husband to let her return to New York.
She was taken to a psychiatric ward when she flew home, “but it was like sleeping in the Marriott,” she said, “because I had control over my body that night.”
Amin recently obtained an associates degree in social work. She's also started the Naila Amin Foundation, an organization designed to help girls fleeing forced marriages.
Amin is involved in a committed relationship with Joe Anthony, who comes from a different culture. She says he made her realize she's worthy of love.
“It’s courageous what she did," Anthony said. "I let her know I love her and I care about her very much, because she didn’t have a lot of that growing up."