A freelance journalist from Norway, I had some personal business at a police station close to the biggest bus station in Lahore, a bustling city of 6 million people.
However, I had to change my plans when I met Saira, a girl who estimates she is 17 years old. A Muslim, she had run away from a village seven hours away from Lahore to escape an arranged marriage with one of her cousins. Not knowing where to turn, the girl ended up here, and her father and uncle had come to get her. Saira was terrified, and she had every right to be.
According to international human rights groups, 5,000 women and girls worldwide are murdered annually by male relatives in so-called "honor killings"—including 1,000 in Pakistan. An honor killing is based on the belief that women belong to their families as property. Men accused of adultery or other offenses can also face a death sentence to protect the family "honor." However, they usually get off much more leniently. The human rights group Amnesty International reports that women—like Saira—who refuse arranged marriages are often murdered.
Although journalists are trained to maintain a professional distance, I felt I had to do something to help this girl. Saira, dressed in a black hejab that covered her body and much of her face, was screaming, especially when her father or uncle tried to approach her.
As Saira sat on the edge of a cot used as seating inside the police station, an off-duty constable started getting too familiar, reaching to touch her breasts. The constable's superior nearby did nothing but watch this assault unfold. The father and uncle, who wanted the police to help them, did nothing to interfere. I think they also wanted to teach Saira a lesson.
Whether I was brave or stupid, I ran ...1
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