Calif. Girl, 13, Escapes Forced Marriage

Cops remove Jesse Bender from parents' home after she flees Pakistan trip
By Mary Papenfuss,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 4, 2011 2:01 AM CST
Calif. Girl, 13, Escapes Forced Marriage
Jesse Bender was taken into child protective custody after she told police she was hiding out to avoid a forced marriage in Pakistan.   (AP Photo/San Bernadino County Sheriff's Department)

A 13-year-old California girl has been removed from her parents' custody after police said the couple tried to force the teen into an arranged marriage in Pakistan. Jesse Marie Bender secretly fled to her uncle's home to escape the arrangement set up by her mom and stepfather, who is Pakistani, according to ABC News. A nationwide search was launched for the girl when her mom reported her missing to police, telling them her daughter was upset about a pending vacation to Pakistan and had begun a troubling relationship with a Facebook contact, according to police.

The middle school honors student and three siblings are being cared for by child protection services while authorities decide what action to take against Bender's parents. Arranged marriages are "not unheard of" in America and "in fact are becoming a more prominent issue," said a spokeswoman for Human Rights Watch. She indicated the US should consider new legal protections for girls, such as Britain's Forced Marriage Act, which allows children to obtain an order of protection against parents considering forced unions. (More forced marriage stories.)

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