My Parents Sold Me as a Child Bride for £45,000 When I Was 12

This is how I escaped, and why I still love my family.
a woman with long hair staring out onto a lake
Image: Adobe Stock / Farknot Architect

This article was originally published on VICE Romania.

In Romania’s last census, 3 percent of the population identified as Roma, but the actual size of the country’s Roma community is believed to be much larger. It’s not surprising that many Roma refuse to declare their ethnicity, when a recent survey found that 7 out of 10 Romanians do not trust the Roma, believe they’re dangerous and are given more rights than they deserve.


Many Roma children in Romania are married young and never finish school, with arranged marriages still very common. Roma parents would often marry off their children when they were about 12 or 13, until, in 2014, the self-proclaimed international king of the Roma, Dorin Cioabă, announced that marriages of children younger than 16 would be forbidden.

Monica is a Roma girl who was engaged at a young age, but fought against all the odds to finish school and earn a master’s degree. She now has ambitions to become a flight attendant.

When I was 12, I was sold into marriage for €50,000 (£45,280). Anyone who reads this will probably wonder how a parent could sell a child. But my parents didn't do it for the money. In my community, we have this saying: “All the good guys marry young” – they were worried I would either end up a “spinster” or with a terrible husband who would force me into sex work. If I ended up in a bad family, I would risk being beaten up, insulted, cheated on and treated like a slave by the boy's relatives.

I’d known the boy I was sold to, Marius, from a young age. We were neighbours and I could tell he liked me. Girls in my town were never allowed to walk the street alone, so we only went out when my grandma was sitting in front of the gate, watching us, and Marius would always follow me.

During an almsgiving meal at our house when I was 12, his parents came to ask for my hand in marriage. “Our son is in love with your daughter and he is suffering,” they said. They wanted to buy me, to raise me until I was 18 and then marry me to their son, but my father refused. He said we could meet and get engaged, but I would keep living in my parents’ house until the wedding. It’s not like we were allowed to have sex anyway – we weren't even allowed to kiss.


My dad asked for €50,000 because, out of all his daughters, he thought I was the most beautiful and the most studious. They agreed for the boy's parents to pay half the sum at the engagement and the other half on the wedding day, when I was 18. My parents didn't get to keep the money; it would all go to my husband and I, so we could buy a house and a car. Some parents keep the money for themselves, but my parents didn't want that.

Ten years ago, €50,000 was a very large sum for a bride. Now, modest families like mine give about €40,000 (£36,220) to a bride’s family. The poorer families – like the Roma living in tents – give €1,000 (£905). Very rich Roma living in palaces could give €100,000 (£90,550).

A week after the engagement, I went shopping with my future mother-in-law. She bought me clothes, earrings and a gold chain, all for the engagement party. The party is traditionally held in the groom’s family’s garden. The whole family is invited and fiddlers play live music.

In the past, if the girl was 17 or 18, in my community a “shirt” ritual was performed. Basically, the newly-engaged couple would go into a room, with the girl dressed in a white shirt, and have sex. If the shirt was stained with blood, the boy would show the so-called “evidence” of the girl’s virginity to the wedding guests, who would dance around with the shirt. Since I was only 12, we didn't do this.


These days, the ritual is done the day before the wedding, and the boy just brings the shirt tied nicely with a red ribbon. But some parents still demand a virgin bride, and if they don’t find blood on the shirt they treat the girl horrifically. In that case, there are two options: either the boy loves the girl enough to stain the shirt himself with something red, or the girl gets reconstructive surgery on her hymen before the wedding.

After our engagement, I wasn't allowed to go out unless I was accompanied by Marius. I said I loved him, although I didn't know what love was. I found out much later that I didn't even like him.

At school, the teachers were more racist than my classmates

I was scared of starting high school. In elementary school, all of my classmates had been Roma, but in high school I only had one Roma classmate. My parents were very proud of me, but Marius's family didn't like my passion for studying. Every time I visited them I helped my future mother-in-law cook and clean. She wanted me to become a housewife. She even convinced my parents to keep me out of school for a week.

I had a cool physics teacher who I got along with well, and she knew about my situation. When she noticed I was missing school, she told the head of my year to call my parents and tell them I had to finish year ten, or she would call Child Protection Services. My father asked me if I wanted to go to school≤ and I said yes, because I was going crazy at home.


Still, I didn't love the atmosphere at school. Other than the physics teacher, all the teachers were racist and treated me badly. Once, I got 9.5 on a test, and the teacher wrote down a 9 instead of 10. She asked how it was possible for me to have studied, when I was a “gypsy” and “gypsies just spend their days in car parks stealing money”. I got really angry and studied hard for every test. Each time she said the same thing – that I didn't deserve high grades.

He fell in love with someone else

At the end of year ten I told another teacher to go fuck herself, because I was so tired of being accused of cheating. She was outraged, but I told her she never had to see me again, since I’d had enough of school.

After that incident, there was a meeting with my parents at school, and the head of my year praised me for the first time ever. She knew I was going to leave school and asked my mother to let me finish, since the wedding was still two years away. My parents were convinced, but Marius was upset because it meant he had to continue as well.

In year 11, he fell in love with another girl and didn’t want to see me anymore. His family was against it – once you make a wedding agreement, you can't go back on your word without badly staining your reputation. Honour is very important in our community. Since he couldn't break the engagement, Marius tried to make me end it. He started treating me badly, swearing at me, and even hit me. In the beginning he only slapped me in the face, but later, in year 12, he would kick me and burn me with cigarettes. He beat me up so badly that I would lose my breath. He even did it in front of his sisters, who couldn't intervene, or he would beat them too. I feared that if I told my parents the beatings would just get worse.


Another boy in my class was in love with me, and when he saw the bruises he said he wanted to kidnap me and marry me. In my community, if you want a girl you can basically steal her. It’s why, when I was young, my father never left my side at weddings – in case I was kidnapped and raped by a man, and then had to stay with him. The boy in my class said he was going to find a job so he could take care of me. Even though I did want to get out, I told him that I would only ruin his life, and that I didn’t love him. He kept insisting, but I couldn't do it.

I got better grades on my final high school exams than anyone expected, including me. The head teacher told my father that I could either have a great career, or be just a young wife and risk being beaten up.

My father signed me up for medical school, but even though I’d never dreamed of going to university before, I realised Geography was what I wanted. When I was young, I used to buy atlases of the world or books on geographical discoveries and exploration. I would write down all the information I liked. My dad got really angry, but he let me do it. I ended up doing a Masters in Engineering after my Geography degree, just to make him proud.

My ex-fiancé threatened me with a knife

In my first year of college I was very scared. I kept worrying that all the students in my class would flee when they found out I was Roma. So, whenever I started a conversation with someone, I told them straight away, just to get rid of my anxiety. They would either accept it or leave. Some people were fascinated and wanted to know more about my community and our traditions, while others – usually the boys who fancied me – turned away. I think they were afraid.

When I joined a student association≤ everything changed. I started secretly going out. Marius broke up with the girl he was with and wanted to be with me again, but I was already in love with someone else. I didn't spend much time at home, and Marius would text me non-stop. One night, I woke up to him in my room. He wanted to make up with me and, when I refused, he punched me in the stomach and left. I told my dad everything and he couldn't believe it – it was January at the time, and he told Marius we needed a break until March.


A week later, Marius was in my room again, at night, holding a knife to my neck. He threatened to kill me if I didn’t make up with him. I tried to fake a positive answer, but as soon as I got up from the bed I started swearing at him. He got mad and choked me until I fainted.

The next day, I told my parents everything and my father went to Marius’ parents to end the engagement. The only problem was the €25,000 they had already given us. His parents tried to extend the engagement – they suggested another break. But in the meantime, I’d kept in touch with the boy I’d fallen in love with and wanted to run off to the seaside with him. My dad was furious, but mum gave me €100 and we ran away. When Marius' parents found out, they ended the engagement.

My community held a trial to decide what should happen with the €50,000. During the trial, the leader of my community – bulibașa, as we call him – concluded that I shouldn't get the rest of the money, because I ran away with another man, but my family could keep the first instalment because he had beaten me up so badly. We don't involve police in our trials – the punishment is usually given by the bulibașa.

These days, my family is OK with me getting into a relationship. In the past, they only wanted a Roma son-in-law, but now they don't care. My mother only wants the man to love and respect me, and to make a decent living. He doesn't need to buy me from them, but he needs to have a good job, so I don't ask them for money.