A teenager whose disappearance from her San Antonio, Texas, high school sparked an FBI search told investigators she was hiding from her abusive parents, who beat her and poured hot cooking oil on her for rejecting a forced marriage with an adult man, authorities said.
Abdulah Fahmi Al Hishmawi, 34, and Hamdiyah Sabah Al Hishmawi, 33, were freed on bond Sunday after the Bexar County sheriff’s office charged them Friday with continuous violence against a family member, according to local news station KSAT-12.
The parents arranged in mid-2017 for their then-15-year-old daughter, Maarib Al Hishmawi, to marry a man who offered the family $20,000, the sheriff’s office said. When the girl refused, the parents beat her with broomsticks, choked her and repeatedly poured hot cooking oil on her.
“This young lady, at various times over that time period was subjected to some pretty bad abuse because she didn’t want to be married to this person,” Sheriff Javier Salazar said during a press conference. “Several times it was reported to us that this young lady was abused with hot cooking oil being thrown on her body. She was beat with broomsticks. At least at one point, she was choked almost to the point of unconsciousness. It’s really heartbreaking to hear.”
The abuse was uncovered after Al Hishmawi, now 16, went missing from her school in late January. The FBI joined the investigation, and the teen was located in mid-March, telling investigators that she fled because she was being abused at home. Salazar said the girl took refuge with an organization he didn’t name.
The sheriff told the San Antonio Express that investigators have identified the man who offered to marry Al Hishmawi, and it’s “highly likely” he, too, will be charged.
Al Hishmawi, along with five siblings, have been placed in the custody of the state’s Child Protective Services. Police said it’s unclear if the other children were abused.
As Al Hishmawi’s father was being led away in handcuffs on Friday, he shouted at media that his daughter must be on drugs, and insinuated she fabricated the entire story.
The Department of State defines forced marriage as situations “when someone is marrying against his or her will.” The difference between arranged marriage and forced marriage is the “difference between consent and coercion,” according to anti-child marriage organization Unchained At Last. Although arranged marriages can be healthy forms of courtship, all too often they are used as a guise for forced marriages and child marriages.
Forced marriage and child marriage are more common in the U.S. than many people realize. From 2000 to 2010, 248,000 children as young as 12 were forced into marriage, according Unchained At Last. The overwhelming majority of child marriage victims are girls who are forced to marry adult men.