Shafilea Ahmed Didn’t Have to Die

Twenty years ago, parents murdered their British Pakistani daughter for daring to be herself. She would get justice only years later.

Shafilea Ahmed (Apsana Begum MP Twitter)

Mehr Singh


August 31, 2023


10 min

Shafilea Ahmed, then a 16-year-old from England, had already run away from home thrice. While on a trip to Pakistan in 2003, she drank so much bleach that she was hospitalized for over three months. Prosecutors called her father’s claim that Ahmed had mistook the bleach for mouthwash during an electricity outage a “stupid and obvious lie.”

“You don’t know what they did to me there,” Shafilea told another patient while in the hospital, referring to how her parents tried to marry her to her cousin. “I don’t even like the guy,” she added, stating that her parents had drugged her to take her to Pakistan, cashed in her return ticket, and taken her passport away. Ahmed’s final act of rebellion against her parents manifested in jeans they deemed too tight. By the end of 2003, she was dead. She was only 17.

In the 20 years that have passed, the world is still behind in how it treats women. The United Nations estimates that violence against women has escalated in recent years, with 1 in 3 women facing abuse. Honor killings in the U.K. have increased by 81% over the past seven years, and research indicates that most perpetrators of honor killings don’t get caught. It would take nearly a decade for Shafilea Ahmed to get justice. For many victims, they never do.

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