KARACHI, PAKISTAN — Kainat Soomro is a 17-year-old Pakistani girl who has become a local celebrity of sorts in her battle for justice in the Pakistani courts, a daring move for a woman of any age in this country, let alone a teenager.
She is fighting to get justice for a gang rape that she insists happened four years ago in Mehar, a small town in Pakistan.
We first met her in the office of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. A colorful traditional Pakistani shawl covered her head. Her father sat next to her as she recounted the 2007 incident.
“I was walking home from my school and I went to the store to buy a toy for my niece,” she said, staring at the floor of the office. “While I was looking at things a guy pressed a handkerchief on my nose. I fainted and was kidnapped. Then four men gang raped me.”
As she shared details of her days in captivity and multiple rapes, she kept repeating, “I want justice, I will not stop until I get justice.” After three days, she was finally able to escape she said. As she spoke, her father gently tapped her head. He said he tried to get Kainat’s alleged rapists arrested, but instead he was rebuffed by the police.
According to the Kainat family’s account, the tribal elders declared her kari, (which literally means black female), for losing her virginity outside marriage.
In Pakistan, women and men who have illicit relationships or women who lose their virginity before marriage are at risk of paying with their lives.
“These are matters of honor and the leaders call a jirga and they declare that the woman or the couple should be killed,” said Abdul Hai, a veteran field officer for the Human Rights Commission in Pakistan. These acts of violence are most commonly labeled as “honor killings.”
The most recent report from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan noted that in 2009 roughly 46 percent of all female murders in Pakistan that year were in the name of “honor.” The report noted that a total of 647 incidences of “honor killings” were reported by the Pakistani press. However, experts say that actual incidences of “honor killings” in Pakistan are much higher and never get reported to the police because they are passed off by the families as suicides.
Kainat said that despite the pressures her family refused to kill her.
“It is the tradition, but if the family doesn’t permit it, then it won’t happen. My father, my brother, my mom didn’t allow it,” she said.
And that defiance has left the family fearing for their lives. The family’s new home in Karachi has been attacked a number of times.
But, according to Abdul Hai, Kainat is lucky: “The woman or the girl usually gets killed and the man gets away,” he said. “Over 70 percent of the murdered victims are women and only 30 percent of victims of honor killings are male.”
In Karachi, Kainat and her family are now sharing one room in a run-down apartment block, and they have to rely on charities to help them pay for food.
“We go hungry many nights,” said Kainat’s older sister.
But their fight might never pay off. A local judge has already ruled against Kainat in the case. “There is no corroborative evidence available on record. The sole testimony of the alleged rape survivor is not sufficient,” the judge said in a written decision.
Another problem is that material evidence is usually not collected in rape cases in Pakistan since the police rarely believe rape victims and therefore don’t order rape kits in a timely manner.
Without medical tests to corroborate her story, it remains Kainat’s word against the alleged rapists. But even having lost her case at the local court, Kainat insists, “I am not giving up, I will take this all the way to the Supreme Court of Pakistan.”
Well, this sure sounds constitutional…
If you’re charged with a nonviolent crime in one Alabama town, you might just have the chance to pray it all away.
Starting this week, under a new program called Operation ROC (Restore Our Community), local judges in Bay Minette, Alabama, will give those found guilty of misdemeanors the choice of serving out their time in jail, paying a fine or attending church each Sunday for a year.
The goal of the program is to help steer those who are not yet hardened criminals the chance to turn their lives around. Those who choose to go to church (there are no mosques or synagogues in the area) will have to check in with a pastor and the police department each week, CNN affiliate WKRG reported. Once you attend church every week for a year the case would be dismissed.
Police Chief Mike Rowland said the measure is one that would help save money and help direct people down the right path. Rowland told WKRG it costs $75 a day to house each inmate.
“Longevity is the key,” he told WKRG.
He said he believes 30-day drug programs don’t have the long-term capabilities to heal someone in the ways the ROC program might.
Police in the town said they think it is a simple choice, but others think it’s a choice that shouldn’t even be offered.
The ACLU in Alabama said the idea is “blatantly unconstitutional,” according to the Alabama Press-Register.
“It violates one basic tenet of the Constitution, namely that government can’t force participation in religious activity,” Olivia Turner, executive director for the ACLU of Alabama told the paper.
Rowland acknowledged there were concerns about separation of church and state complaints but said he didn’t see it as too big of a problem because offenders weren’t being forced to attend church, they are just being given the option.
The offenders who voluntarily choose church over jail get to pick the churches they attend. If they complete a year’s attendance, Rowland said, their criminal case would be dismissed.
It’s no secret fewer Canadians attend church today than 20 years ago, but what may be surprising is almost half of Canadians believe religion does more harm than good, according to the results of a survey conducted by Ipsos Reid.
Explanations from experts vary – from fear of extremists and anger toward individuals who abuse positions of power, to a national ‘forgetting’ of Canadian history.
“In the past few years, there have been several highprofile international situations involving perceived religious conflicts, as well as the anniversary of 9/11, and I think when people see those, it causes them to fear religion and to see it as a source of conflict,” said Janet Epp Buckingham, associate professor at Trinity Western University.
Canadians who don’t participate in religion themselves experience it in the news, which can sensationalize the negatives aspects of religion, said Dr. Pamela Dickey Young, the principal of the School of Religion at Queen’s University.
The survey, which was conducted ahead of the launch of a new Global TV show – Context – about religion in Canada, also found that 89 per cent of Canadians are comfortable being around people of different faiths.
But, on the question of whether religion does more harm than good, Rev. Canon Dr. Bill Prentice, director of Community Ministry for the Anglican diocese of Ottawa, said: “We forget our history.”
He pointed out that the first hospitals, schools, and universities in Canada were founded by religious institutions.