The two stories that I am writing about in today’s piece are horrifyingly true and, although different at face value, they are still very similar in that the two of them revolve around domestic violence. These are not stories about a battered wife or a verbally abused fiancé. The two stories are about domestic abuse perpetrated by both parents on their own child.
The first story is about the murder of 17-year-old British-Pakistani, Shafilea Ahmed, by her parents, Iftikar and Farzana Ahmed. This tragic story is about a clash of cultures that led to a lack of understanding by Shafilea’s parents.
Shafilea was torn between two cultures: the Pakistani culture showered by her parents and her embrace of the Western British culture she was immersed into. Her parents wanted to marry her off in Pakistan but she wanted to continue with her studies and be free to marry whoever she wanted. Because of her “rebellious nature” she was regularly beaten.
But is it truly rebellious behaviour, simply asking one’s parents to respect one’s fundamental rights?
She ran away from home but was deceived into coming back and, after drugging her, her parents shipped her off to Pakistan to get married. In Pakistan, she drank bleach; the only way, she thought, she could escape and she was sent back to Britain.
Later, in the heat of one of their quarrels, her parents suffocated their daughter by pushing a plastic bag in her mouth. They then hid and dumped her body, pretending that their daughter went missing.
A few days ago, Iftikar and Farzana Ahmed were found guilty of the murder of their daughter and were sentenced to serve at least 25 years in prison.
Another story – not exactly the same, yet, strangely similar to the previous one – is that of Jane Champion, a white 17-year-old Briton who was horrendously beaten and assaulted by her parents for dating a young man of colour. They claimed that by dating a man of a different colour from hers she was bringing shame to her family.
A few days ago the father was sentenced to 12 months in prison and the mother was given nine months.
The common theme in these two stories is that the parents of the two teenagers relied on the claim that their children were bringing “shame” onto their family in order to mask and justify their actions.
But what shame did they bring? Did Shafilea bring shame for not wanting to consent to an arranged marriage? Did Shafilea bring shame for wanting to have the same basic rights that most of us take for granted? Did Jane bring shame just because she was dating a young man of colour?
Parents ought to take care and protect their children and not batter them – sometimes even to death.
Domestic violence is “any act of violence, if only verbal, perpetrated by a household member upon another household member and includes any omission which causes physical or moral harm to the other” (article 2, Domestic Violence Act) and, obviously, children are, by definition, household members. This form of violence can fall under numerous umbrella headings such as child abuse, domestic violence, corporal punishment. Whatever the case it is certainly unacceptable.
However, the most unfathomable aspect about these two stories is the fact that all four parents deemed their behaviour as acceptable. Although one might cry that murdering one’s child is not so common, I dare to disagree because the murder of Shafilea was a result of many tragic consequences. All forms of violence, domestic violence, child abuse and corporal punishment are to be abhorred.
Children who are living with violent parents cannot remain living there for the sake of the children themselves. This is where a care order is definitely in the best interests of the minor.
One might argue that in Malta the concept of honour killings, such as the murder of Shafilea – that is, a murder by family members to protect the integrity of the family due to the “shame” that is deemed to be brought by the victim – may not be part of the Maltese reality. However, the brutal assault of Jane Champion was brought about by a typical British family who believed that their daughter should not date a young man of colour. Persons who are violent sometimes use religion, race and shame as an excuse to justify their actions.
Violent nature is not to be tolerated at all and, more often than not, people living in a domestic household are afraid to speak up because they themselves feel ashamed of what is happening to them. That is, ashamed that their own family members – those who are supposed to love them – are victimising them.
Dr Mangion is a lawyer and a published author with a special interest in family and child law.