Last week, the international media focused its attention on a modern-day slavery story that first gained attention in 2012 when Ilyas and Tallat Ashar, a British-Pakistani millionaire couple were accused of charges of trafficking, rape, abuse and fraud. They were subsequently found guilty and jailed in 2013. In 2000, Ilyas Ashar now 86, and his wife Tallat Ashar 69, trafficked a deaf and mute Pakistani girl presumed to be age 10 at the time, into the UK to “work” as a domestic help. Apparently, the girl was told her parents had died and arrived in the UK in 2000 with a passport that stated she was 19 years old, and was allowed into Britain on the condition that she did not apply for public money. She was kept in the couples’ cellar in their home in Eccles, Salford, in inhumane conditions, exploited, forced to work, beaten and raped regularly. Furthermore, the couple claimed benefits for the girl from the state.
Now, the court calculated the Ashars have to pay the victim £101,300 ($160,000). This is the amount that she would have been paid if she had earned the minimum wage working for the couple for 12 hours a day, every day since 2003 except for ten days off.
They are also required to pay back £42,000 ($67,000) in benefits to the state that they wrongfully claimed for the girl.
To say the least, I was repulsed by this news. I was not only appalled by the frivolous way in which the news has been handled by the media, particularly in the UK, but by the court’s concession to pay the victim £100,000. £100,000!! This girl lost almost ten years of her life enduring the most horrific forms of abuse. Nothing we do now can change what happened, and money cannot make up for all her suffering. But calculating £100,000 based on minimum-wage figures, considering that the girl was a minor throughout most of that time, over-working, raped, beaten, abused and that the Ashars are MILLIONAIRES, this amount doesn’t even come close to what the girl should have received in compensation. In addition, Ilyas Ashar received 16 years in prison and his wife 5. I am no supporter of the death penalty, but I certainly think the couple deserves a life sentence.
This is just another case of modern-day slavery in the world we live in. Women are the most vulnerable victims of sex trafficking in the world. This is an issue that I believe so-called “developed” nations as Britain, have greatly failed to address although they have pledged to tackle human trafficking. Unfortunately in many cases the victims are being trafficked to the “developed” world. I am still wondering how it is possible that the girl was not discovered sooner, particularly since the couple was claiming social benefits from the state on her behalf. How was she never checked on? Was just her signature sufficient? The girl was only discovered because the Ashars’ home was raided on money laundering charges. There are serious faults with the British welfare and justice systems.
On the Pakistani side questions also remained unanswered. Was the victim sold by her family to this couple? Was she just snatched and taken away? What are Pakistani authorities doing to prevent the trafficking of young girls? I failed to find any news that answered any of these questions.
In light of the recent Nobel Peace Prize awarded to a young Pakistani girl, (read my fellow blogger danibicknell’s post on this), we should give priority to the issue of human and sex trafficking, since it is one of the greatest challenges that many young girls face around the world. Furthermore, the issue of education and protection for trafficked victims is also an important debate to have. Should the “host” country take responsibility for the education and reinsertion of trafficked victims into society? UNODC has a Victim’s Trust Fund to aid NGOs, governments and civil society organizations to help victims of trafficking. Britain takes responsibility for its child trafficking victims, and it has taken responsibility for the education and reinsertion of the Pakistani girl in this story. According to equalitynow.org, there are at least 20.9 million adults and children who are bought and sold worldwide into commercial sexual servitude, forced labor and bonded labor- of these, women and girls make up 98% of victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation. These figures are only estimates, since the scope of the problem is beyond measurement. Most victims of trafficking remain in the dark, voiceless and helpless. In the 21st century we are dealing with serious issues of trafficking and slavery, and much work needs to be done in order to stop it.
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Female empowerment in education is a hot topic thanks to one brave young girl. However, media outlets are having a field-day trying to categorize what Malala stands for, instead of listening to what she is actually saying. Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize for her commitment to bringing awareness to girls education within Pakistan. While most Western media outlets are championing Malala as an international leader, reports show that she is still ostracized in her own country of Pakistan. After she became an international icon for female education, the Taliban threatened to kill her.
Her courage for speaking out comes at a cost, but it is extremely admirable to see her continuing her work even when there appears to be danger for her in doing so. She encourages an open dialogue between the Taliban and the government to understand how to create equal access to education for women.
To put things in context, Malala was shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012 for advocating girls’ rights to education. After that incident, her story got attention from the international community and she was moved to England for treatment. After her recovery she wrote a memoir, I am Malala, which became a best-seller in the U.S. and she became an international idol after becoming the youngest person to win the Nobel Prize. Critiques of Malala have characterized her as a “tool of the west” and some have even gone as far to say that her attack was planned in order for her to become a western hero fighting against orthodox jihad. The media plays an interesting role in discussing Malala and her passion for education. Both Western and Non-Western media outlets tend to put more emphasize on imposed opinion in their pieces, rather than focsuing about the important elements that Malala brings to the discussion about girls access to education. At a recent Conference in Philadelphia, I heard Malala speak about her experiences in Pakistan and in England and the United States. What stood out to me most is that she stated that she is a devote Muslim, loves her home country and this does not mean she cannot also advocate for girls education rights. She spoke beautifully about what being Muslim means to her, and dispels Western myths that Islam is against education and peace.
“Extremists think girls education is not important, but Islam is not against education. That point needs to be clarified…The word Islam means peace. We all need to understand what the real Islam means.” (Yousafzai, 2014)
Malala was very blunt about the violence she saw in Pakistan before she was attacked, however, she was very explicit in not blaming her country, only those that attacked her. She was also enthusiastic, talking about the good that is coming out of Pakistan since her attack.
“In Pakistan there is a big change. Before, no one could come out and talk openly about the Taliban. After I was attacked, people that could not come out against the Taliban came out and said, I am Malala. Now people can speak freely about the Taliban when they couldn’t before.” (Yousafzai, 2014)
She was very diplomatic in talking about how the West can aid in this fight against terrorism. She stated that Western Powers, like the US, can play a role in bringing education to girls in Pakistan and in the rest of the world. In addition, she made a specific request to President Obama when she met him.
“I told President Obama, don’t send bombs, send books, send teachers….drones might kill terrorists but they don’t kill terrorism.” (Yousafzai, 2014)
While Western media sources praise Malala, and on the other side of the world they call out the West for turning this young girl into, “a tool of the west,” one thing is for sure. Malala is not only a champion for women’s rights, she could also be an indirect diplomat to bring peace between the East and West. She is a proud Pakistani and she dreams of going back to her home country, but recognizes the danger in doing so. She has called on the U.S. to stop their military intervention and since she is highly respected for her work in the West, the U.S. should heed her advice, in order to make her dream come true. I believe part of her strength is in her youth. As the youngest winner of the Nobel Prize, the 17 year-old is calling for peace in the name of education. As much as each side can try to demonize the other through various media outlets, there is no denying that Malala wants to go back home to Pakistan and also wants everyone to have the opportunity to go to school. If world powers could work together to make the dream of education and peace a reality, that would be news worth reporting about. Until then, I hope that Malala’s words are left unabridged so that everyone can truly understand what she is fighting for.