Palestinian girl, Baraa Melhem, imprisoned for nine years by parents

Israeli authorities have charged a West Bank couple with imprisoning their daughter for nine years, the BBC reported.

According to an indictment filed Tuesday, Baraa Melhem was locked up by her father and step-mother between the ages of 11 and 20, at their home in Qalqilya.

She was reportedly kept in a bathroom or other small rooms, allowed out only to do household chores. Her father Hassan, 49, allegedly beat her and threatened her with rape, while both he and his wife encouraged her to kill herself.

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Melhem was freed by Palestinian security forces on Jan. 21, after her aunt alerted a social worker.

Her father was arrested in the West Bank, and his wife in Israel. They were handed over to Israeli police and charged with abusing a minor, imprisonment and attempting to pressure another person to commit suicide.

A spokesman for the Palestinian security forces said Hassan Melhem claimed he imprisoned his daughter for "fear of her becoming a victim of sexual assault," Arutz Sheva reported.

According to the Associated Press, Baraa is now living in Jerusalem with her mother, Hassam Melhem's first wife, who divorced him 16 years ago and allowed him to keep custody of their daughter.

Speaking two days after her rescue, Baraa told the AP: "I have joy now. My life has begun."

She was imprisoned after she attempted to run away aged 10, she said. Her two half-siblings – both said to have mental disabilities – were forbidden from leaving the house, but were not subjected to the level of abuse she received. According to the AP:

"She dreamed of fleeing, but Melhem said her father threatened to rape her until she became pregnant if she tried to escape. Then he warned he would kill her and justify the crime by saying that she had shamed the family — what is known in Arab society as 'honor killing.'

She said when he was angry, he regularly beat her with electric cables and sticks. He poured cold water on her when she asked for her mother, and sometimes shaved her head and eyebrows. She was let out only late at night to clean the rest of the house. Before dawn, her father then locked her back inside."

Melhem said she hoped to study psychology and one day help others who had suffered similar abuse.

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