Aisha was 14 years old when she married a man almost a decade older in a match arranged by her parents. “I was just thinking I would have the opportunity to wear good clothes and high heels,” Aisha, now 35, tells TIME.
Living in Pakistan’s northwest Mianwali district, the marriage festivities made her feel glamorous, even though she would no longer attend school and her elders had forged a marriage certificate saying she was 18. Soon after the marriage was solemnized, however, the abuse from her husband began: Age 16, Aisha’s pregnant body was hurled against a cupboard, leaving her covered in bruises. Her husband later burned his daughter’s hand on a heater and dropped icy water over his wife’s head as she slept. “He was torturing me in small, cruel ways,” says Aisha, who asked TIME not to use her real name for safety reasons. Her husband sought a second wife, but ordered Aisha to initiate a divorce first, fearing the risk to his reputation in the family.
Pakistan has one of the highest numbers of child brides in the world. Almost a quarter of girls marry before the age of 18, according to a recent poll by Gallup. Although the minimum age limit for marriage is set at 18 for men, women can legally marry at 16 in the South Asian country of more than 200 million. However, some lawmakers are taking action following longtime lobbying efforts of women’s and child rights groups, and have proposed amending the legal age of marriage for women to 18. On Dec. 11, parliament will vote to end child marriages nationwide under the Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Bill 2017.