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22 Jun, 2009 06:47

Muslim girls fall victim to honor killings

The United Nations says that over five thousand women and children die every year in so-called "honor killings", often where family members kill women who refuse to enter forced marriages.

The brutal custom exists even in liberal countries like Sweden, where some are killed despite going into hiding.

Fatima moved to Sweden from Iran a decade ago. Her new life meant a new school and new friends. But her family, who was steeped in tradition, didn’t agree with her new lifestyle.

“When my father learned that I had Swedish friends, he told me not to spend time with them,” she confessed.

“I refused. He and my brothers started beating me severely. Me, my sister and my mother, who defended me,” she added.

After her father threatened to kill her, the young woman ran away to a different city. Now Fatima (as she has decided to call herself) has been in hiding for several years.

Fatima’s story is an example of a so-called “honor crime”. Parents, mostly from traditional Muslim families, use violence against women to force them into arranged marriages or prohibit them from integrating into society.

Marianne Forslund, a social worker from Gothenburg, Sweden, explains this phenomenon:

“It was their parents who came to Sweden for a better life. And when girls grow up, they want more freedom than their parents can give. And when girls see what opportunities other girls have, it results in family conflicts. I know of 2-3 murder cases, and we also had some girls jumping from balconies.”

One such story rocked Sweden seven years ago. 26-year-old Turkish immigrant Fadime was intimidated by her family for dating a Swedish boyfriend.

She ran away, but was found and shot by her father. Her funeral was televised live and attended by members of the Royal Family.

Fadime’s death sparked massive debate in the moderate Swedish society, and led to the creation of several civil organizations, helping victims of honor crimes. Marianne Forslund heads one of these, and says that they are still unfortunately swamped with work.

“We started with 10 girls 5 years ago, last year we provided help for 160 girls. We help them to change their surnames and we provide them with housing in other cities, so you can’t find them,”
Marianne said.

Secrecy is what these organizations pay special attention to, as the reason for the 2002 killing was that the woman's enraged family had managed to find her.

During RT’s interview with her, Fatima was very nervous and insisted that we not show specific traits of her appearance. She has found a job she likes, and says she is getting on well. But she is still very scared.

“I would rather live in loneliness and struggle to survive than go back to what was my home,”
she acknowledged

Sweden’s Muslim community is estimated at 300 000 people. Social workers stress that the problem does not apply to all Muslim families: 300-400 girls a year run away from their homes to escape abuse. But this, they say, does not make honor crimes less of a threat.

They come to Sweden to seek a better life, but it seems not all of them are ready to leave their traditions behind. And while the Swedish government is investing in the prevention of honor-related crimes, the number of women applying for help every year is not diminishing.