This article was also published in The Atlantic.
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.”