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We have all read in the papers the horrendous tale of the Shafia family whose father and brother drowned the three daughters and first wife. In the Middle East it would be classified as a matter of protecting the honour of the family. In Canada they are charged with first degree murder.

The parents came to Montreal seeking to find financial rewards in a new land. Sadly, they took with them their old world prejudices to enforce and intimidate their daughters into conforming to their sense of morality.

Girls in Afghanistan are supposed to dress/act appropriately or they are punished by the male members of the family. Being female they didn’t have the right to disagree and have an opinion. Being immersed in a egalitarian high school was sure hard to try and balance the life style of their classmates with the old order dictated by their family.

Daughters Zainab,Sahar and Geeti aged 19, 17 and 13 were found dead in the family car in the locks near Kingston, Ont., We have heard the testimony of teachers and guidance counselors from their school telling of the bruises and terror that the girls faced daily constantly fearing for their well being.

The counselors did the right thing and notified the Children’s Aid who made visits to their home to interview the family. The girls parents told the workers that all was well. The teen-aged girls were not going to admit the truth in front of their parents. The fear of being sent back to Afghanistan to be married off to an old man is a constant reminder to bend to the will of the father.

Telling the truth would result in physical/ emotional beating by their brother and father for divulging the dirty secretive laundry to the authorities.

I vividly remember a similar case that I relive every day of a young women, “Fatima”, who came to school one day wearing dark glasses to hide her blackened eyes. She told me that her mother/dad had beat her up her the night before.

It takes a lot of trust on those who are abused to call out for help in their time of need. Sometimes finding themselves caught between a rock and a hard place they commit suicide It was most fortunate that Fatima came to see me at 7.30 in the morning.

In our interview she told me that they caught her talking to a young man on her way home from school. She asked me to keep our interview a private matter between the two of us. I explained to her that when there was a matter of her safety that I was obligated to inform the Children’s Aid Society to assess and make recommendations to the family. The case worker visited the girl in school and then interviewed the parents in their home.

The folks told the worker that all was well and that their daughter was simply exaggerating. The girl returned to her home and when she was sleeping her mother burned her face with a very hot electric iron.

The girl was quickly moved to her grandmother’s home in Montreal where she was able to find security and finish her high school education and go on to college.

In my many years of counselling l have never lost one of my students to suicide. I guess I was lucky. The memory of the killing of the Shafia girls will constantly haunt their counsellors , teachers and fellow class mates for many years. The question of the “what ifs” had they intervened earlier would the girls still be alive to-day.

Those who are charged with the well-being of our youth have to be always vigilant and act "in loco parentis" to protect our children.

Len Lesser

Len Lesser posts a report every week

You can email Len at lenlesser@hotmail.com