Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Runaway Returned

Here’s an update on the runaway girl that I wrote about last week. You were probably shocked to find out that she was only fourteen, well guess what, her actual age was eleven! More details have come to light since the first blog.

The runaway girl, we’ll call her Saima to make this easier, went out to the market to get some everyday food stuff. She met three boys at the market. From this point on we have two possible stories. 1. The girl left willingly and ran away with the boys or 2. The girl was kidnapped by the boys in the middle of the crowded market. Option #1 seems more plausible considering the circumstances, but the girl’s family holds to option #2 in order to preserve their family honor.

So back to the story, Saima was out at the market. She met three boys from the neighborhood. They boys were older than her, somewhere between 16 and 18. Saima is still in a child’s body at the age of 11. Her height is barely to the waist of the teenage boys. Somehow, she either decided to get in a rickshaw with them or was forced to. Her family claims the boys’ had a pistol and forced her to go. Their next stop was the crowded train station of Lahore where they caught a train all the way to Karachi. If you know the map of Pakistan, Karachi is a city in the southernmost part of the country on the Arabian Sea. A journey there from Lahore can take anywhere between 15 and 24 hours.

All three boys were with Saima on the train. They stopped along the way at a hotel and got some food. Meanwhile, back in Lahore Saima’s parents notified the police. They found out that she had disappeared with the boys and their fathers were arrested and put in jail. Here, because the family ties are so strong, police regularly hold and torture family members in order to get the accused to fess up. When my friend was telling me I was confused, because in America a rebellious teenage boy most likely would not care if his father was in jail. Nevertheless, this psycho analysis proves correct here and two of the boys return home to free their fathers. One boy, the main culprit, stays with Saima and continues on the Karachi.

When they got to Karachi they tried to stay at one of the boy’s relative’s houses, but they had been forewarned and would not let them in. At this point Saima called her parents and was telling them that she had gotten married and did not want to come home. Upon seeing the girl, my friend Rana didn’t think it was possible that anyone would have allowed this girl to get married. She would not fool anyone that she is past 13, nevermind the legal marrying age without parental consent. The boy didn’t have any money for a bribe and had spent most of their time on the train so it’s doubtful that any marriage took place. Saima’s story is that after they were refused housing they got back on the train and headed back to Lahore. 15 – 24 MORE hours on the train.
Reaching Lahore again, they went straight to the boys’ family. His older brother, who had been put in jail until his return, was released. The boys’ family was now afraid to return Saima to her parents. Her own family would be likely to beat her or even murder her for the shame she would bring her family for this escapade. She spent two days at the boys’ house, being told continuously that if she went home her parents would surely murder her. The boys’ family tried to convince her to stay with them for the sake of her own personal safety.

Now, my friend Rana to the rescue. Turns out he has connections with both sides of the family. The boys’ side is unwilling to give Saima back to any of her family members. Saima’s side is livid. They want their daughter back and they are in the process of filing kidnapping charges against the boy. Rana knows that this is a serious situation, and that is entirely plausible for this girl to be murdered or “disposed of” by her own family. He talks to each of the male family members and makes them promise not to hurt Saima if she is returned to their home. He is still worried about the female members of the household, who sometimes are the most merciless when it comes to issues like this, but he decides to risk it. He tells them, “Look I will collect and return your daughter to you. If anything is to happen to her, I will testify in court that I returned her safe and sound to your doorstep. The boys’ family will have nothing to do with this and the blame will be on your heads.”
The family agrees to the conditions.

Now Rana is contacting the boys’ family. Mobile phone calls. Let’s meet here. A sketchy place in Lahore late in the night. Nope, too sensitive. Let’s meet at this place. He’s driving from place to place, getting more and more nervous. Finally, he meets the entourage. This is his story:“I looked and I saw the girl. She was small, much smaller than I thought she would be. Just a child. The boy was a grown man, the same size as me. And she was barely coming past his waist. I looked into her eyes, and she looked at me as if I was her murderer. I will never forget the look she gave me. I was shaking. I was thinking, God please protect this girl when she goes back to her family. She sat in the car, right where you are sitting now (the passenger seat]. I hadn’t gone to her family’s house before. We found the house, arrived, and I took her inside. Again I made her family promise not to hurt her or lay a hand on her. Then, my job was over, I left her there.”

Currently Saima’s family is deciding whether to press charges against the boy. If they can show it was a kidnapping, and that she did not go willfully, it will save some of their family honor. The girl is now talking in agreement with this as if it was against her own will, while previously she was calling from Karachi saying she got married and wanted to stay there. The parents say that Saima was forced to say these things because the boy had a gun. The whole family is happy about one thing though, Saima and her kidnapper allegedly spent all their time on the train and could not have had time to have sex, or so they think. A 17 or 18 year old boy would have sex with a pre-pubescent girl is somebody I think should go to jail anyway…but Saima’s family would rather charge him on kidnapping and keep it in their minds that they were unable to fool around. If she is no longer a virgin, even though I’m sure she is not developed enough to be pregnant, then she is no longer marriage material and it will bring shame to the whole family. Girls in this country have been killed for far less offenses, like being caught sitting with a boy in a park, or in a car, or receiving letters from a boy in the neighborhood. Women in this country aren’t supposed to have any desire, except to marry who their parents choose for them. Whether that be a 50 year old to wed a 16 year old as his second wife, a boy who has not yet gone through puberty, an obsessive compulsive maniac who is unable to have sex and writes down everything his young wife says or does, a compulsive womanizer who calls his wife while he is cheating on her at a five star hotel…..the women must obey their parents. And yes those examples are all real. “Hey, just wanted to let you know, in case of emergency, that I’m at the PC Hotel, room #404. Say goodnight to the boys for me.”

We’ll see what’s in store for Saima. Pray that she makes it to the marrying age. Another two years until she’s a teenager. Every night I go to sleep thankful that I was not a woman born in Pakistan. And every morning I wake up thankful for the same thing.
“Life is nothing for women in Pakistan.”
a friend’s mother lamenting of her husband taking a second wife
June 2006

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