Parents Suffocate Daughter & Call It an 'Honor Killing'

head scarfNine years ago, Iftikhar and Farzana Ahmed killed their 17-year-old daughter, Shafilea. This wasn't a drug- or alcohol-fueled murder, and it wasn't a sad case of schizophrenia, either. This was a so-called "honor killing." Their daughter had become uncontrollable. She had defied their authority too many times. It was simply time to finish her off.

It's hard to believe two parents thought this was an acceptable thing to do to their own child. Iftikhar and Farzana beat their daughter and then shoved her onto a sofa, stuffed a small plastic bag down her mouth, and used her hands to cover her mouth and nose until she suffocated to death. Shafilea's sister Alsesha later testified that her mother said, "Just finish it here."

How did it come to this? What led to this heartless crime?


You could blame it on cultural differences. But that would be letting them off too easy. Iftikhar and Farzana were immigrants from Pakistan trying to give Shafilea and Alesha a traditional upbringing in a strange, new country (the UK). But even as a young girl, Shafilea refused to conform to her parents' ways. She began with small rebellions, changing into western clothes after she got to school.

As she got older, things escalated. She had a boyfriend -- not of her parents' choosing -- and ran away with him for a while. When her parents tried to marry her off in an arranged marriage in Pakistan, she drank bleach in protest. When she returned from the hospital, the beatings and the arguments at home continued.

Where was Social Services through all of this? There's a long file on Shafilea, but it was closed a year before her death -- before she had even run away and poisoned herself. She had tried to warn authorities she was being abused -- but no one came to her rescue.

It's horrible enough to know that honor killings happen to young women in other countries with different values than ours. But when they happen in the western world, where we supposedly have the means and resources to stop it, it's even worse somehow.

I find it impossible to fully grasp Shafilea's parents' mindset. I understand feeling frustrated with a child, hurt even by their rejection of your values. But the idea that it's better for a child to be dead than to continue to "dishonor" the family with their choices -- it just breaks my heart. I mourn for the struggle Shafilea lived through all these years and for the adulthood and freedom she was denied.

I'm also sad that Iftikhar and Farzana brought this misery down on themselves. They have been sentenced to life in prison. They made a mistake many other parents make, not just immigrants from oppressive cultures: They held onto their daughter too tightly. They defined who she could be too narrowly. And they could not handle it when she grew beyond their grasp. I hope parents everywhere take this moment to remember to guide their children gently and allow them to be who they are.

Have you heard of other so-called honor killings?


Image via senkiwboo/Flickr

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