We must learn the lessons from the murder of Shafilea Ahmed
Last week the parents of British teenager, Shafilea Ahmed, were found guilty of her murder. Her crime? She had refused to agree to an arranged marriage.
Following the conviction and sentencing of Iftikhar and Farzana Ahmed, the young girl’s uncle gave an interview to Pakistan Today.
The Ahmeds lived in Warrington, the north of England, while the uncle lived in a rural village in Pakistan where Shafilea was taken with a view to arranging a marriage for her in 2003.
She resisted and while there drank bleach and had to be brought back to England for hospital treatment. The interview provides an important context for the subsequent horrific events.
Strangely, the link to the interview is no longer available – a few hours after it was put up on Pakistan Today website, it seems to have been taken down.
Whether for technical or legal reasons, it is not known, but type her name into their site search and only one court report appears. Her uncle’s comments have, for whatever reason, now been erased.
Yet for the sake of thousands of teenagers in a similar situation, what happened to Shafilea and the missed opportunities to help her, should not be erased so easily from public consciousness.
Her teachers knew about domestic violence in her home, and Shafilea had written to a housing agency for support, recording her own anguish in her writings but warning signs were not heeded.
The court case heard graphic accounts of how Shafilea was suffocated by her father pushing a plastic bag into her mouth while her mother stood by and her siblings were forced to watch.
Her parents were angry that their 17-year-old was rebelling and, from their perspective, was becoming too immersed in western ways.
Shafilea was described as a bright teenager, who, had she been allowed to live and reach her potential, could have been working as a lawyer by now.
Her own words helped to condemn her parents, highlighting the dilemma she faced between her family’s traditional ways and the life of a British teenager today.
The Independent published an article about how Shafilea’s poetry graphically illustrated the anguish of her situation.
“I don’t pretend like we’re the perfect family no more, desire to live is burning, my stomach is turning, but all they think about is honour,” she wrote.
Sara Khan, writing in The Guardian’s Comment is Free column, pointed out that there are thousands more teenagers facing a similar dilemma to Shafilea.
Last year police across the UK recorded a total of 2,832 complaints of honour-related crimes but only 234 cases have been prosecuted since 2010.
Khan is now calling for an inquiry into Shafilea’s case as agencies who should have been able to respond to her cries for help, failed to join up the dots.
She added that:: “Shafilea’s life and ultimately her death represent the struggle of many women whose suffering remains unreported, under-researched and unaided.
“In order to combat oppression and empower women, democracy and human rights must begin in the home. We cannot truly call ourselves a democracy if we continue to turn a blind eye to both the abuses and the lack of assistance experienced by so many British women.”
It is time these young women were heard, believed and action taken to prevent more repeats of the fate that Shafilea suffered.
And all because she wanted to be her own woman.