The Shafia family are Afghani immigrants who settled in Montreal Canada. There were two wives in the polygamous family. The young daughters wanted to live like other Canadian girls. They were of ages 19, 17 and 13. The older two daughters had boyfriends. All three girls dressed liberally while outside the home. They angered their extremely conservative Muslim parents. As a result, the parents decided to murder their 3 daughters to save their family honor.
When news reporters wandered into the Muslim and South Asian communities asking for comments on the murders, publicly everyone condemned it. Everyone on camera spoke of the atrocities committed by the Shafia parents and their son. However, behind the camera, the story is very different.
As I walk into the South Asian neighbourhoods of Toronto, many strangers discussing the murders sympathized with Mohammed Shafia. Many older adults were discussing how his daughters tortured him by their actions and his reaction was justified in their views. Some people condemned the murders but still sympathized with Mohammed Shafia and his second wife. In most cases, the victim was Mohammed Shafia and his daughters were a nuisance.
The notion of family honor is widespread in South Asian communities. It is not a religious concept, rather it is a cultural concept. Honor killings are an accepted part of society. This does not apply to everyone in the community because there are some individuals who genuinely disagree with these ancient cultural practices, but their numbers are small.
Our society needs to realize that honor violence is a serious threat in the South Asian community. Many youth, especially young women live their lives secretly in distress. They have very little control over their futures because their parents make the decisions for them. For example, when I was 13 years old, one of my good Sri Lankan friends was betrothed to an extremely wealthy man in his early 20s. She slowly started to rebel and by the time she was 15 years old, she was pregnant during a one night stand. As a damage control measure, her family forced her to marry her baby’s father and dissolved her engagement with the man of their choice. This young girl was one of the brightest people I knew; she wanted to become a surgeon. Now, she is struggling to put her life together and balance motherhood.
Abuse in the name of honor is a silent threat for youth. It is an issue which is least understood by school officials, social workers and other professionals trained to identify youth at risk. Cultural specific education must be provided to such officials and an environment of trust must be created so that youth can voice their concerns.