“My daughter is 13. They aren’t boyfriend and girlfriend”

Worried parents in Madrid plead for their missing teenage child to return

The girl should have stayed home all afternoon looking after her four-year-old brother, while her father, Syedhedaye, worked in his telephone-calling store. It was December 11, a few days before the start of the Christmas holidays. The phone on the counter of the store rang. Syedhedaye answered and was surprised to hear his son, who had managed to call the shop using the redial button. He told his father that he was alone and that he was scared. His older sister had gone.

Since then, Syedhedaye has not heard the voice of his daughter, whose initials are S. A. He has, however, received a number of emails from the boy who has supposedly absconded with the adolescent. His name is Helal Kurshed, and he is 22 years old. S. A. turned 13 in August, as is backed up by the ID card that her father has in his possession — she left it behind when she ran away.

“The thing is, when you’re that age you can easily be led astray,” says her father, sitting in his store in the Carabanchel neighborhood of Madrid. “He has managed to get inside her head, he is blackmailing her,” he says. When asked about the “relationship” between the pair, he says he prefers not to use that term. “They aren’t boyfriend and girlfriend. She’s 13 years old, and hardly knew him. He has taken advantage of her innocence.”

When it became clear that the girl would not be coming back home, Syedhedaye and his wife, Salina, filed a report at the Carabanchel police headquarters. The pair have complaints about how slowly the process is moving. The police say that they are making progress thanks to their collaboration with the courts, but that cases of minors running away on an apparently voluntary basis require a great deal of legal guarantees.

Parents fear she has left home more out of fear for the consequences of her relationship than  love 

While the family hasn’t heard her voice, they have seen several photos of her — photos that they haven’t liked one bit. They were sent by Helal via email, and are black-and-white snaps taken with a webcam in which the pair appear lying on the same bed. There’s nothing risqué going on, but the underlying message appears to be clear: the family, who are Muslims, must give their permission for the youngsters to marry and thus avoid public shame.

In the text that accompanied the photos, Helal writes that the girl will not be returning because it’s their destiny to be together. Her father, however, will not be moved. “We are not going to allow him to marry my daughter.” But at the same time he is willing to offer an olive branch. “She is very young,” he says. “That’s not an age you should get married. We want her to come home. That’s obligatory. Then we will sit down and talk about all of this.”

The family and some of their friends fear that S. A. has left home more out of fear for the consequences of her relationship with Helal than because she is in love with the boy. Her father says that he was unaware of a romance between the two, and that he met Helal just five months ago, when he began working for the Lebara telephone company, taking their advertising to local telephone-calling stores.

The family is calling on anyone who knows Helal to get involved and convince him that he’s making a mistake. “Her mother is in a terrible state,” says Syedhedaye. “Please, just come home and we’ll talk,” he pleads.

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