When a mother turns to her 17-year-old son for help in Pakistan

Published: July 8, 2015

She removed her dupatta, and to my utmost horror, this revealed a huge bruise on her left cheek. PHOTO: AFP

The perfectly starched lab coat hanging in my cupboard stared back at me. I was starting a summer internship at the Civil Hospital to see the inner workings of the field I aspire to pursue. And oh boy, I was motivated, now more than ever.

This internship proved to be a great educational experience and opened my eyes to a side of the world I had been oblivious to before, leaving me with a story that I’m compelled to share today. A particular case struck a chord with me – one I may never forget. The patient, Shayan, was a boy of my age who belonged to a family of modest means.

Hurried through emergency, his father explained that Shayan had been in a motorcycle accident. We discovered that he had suffered a skull fracture and required immediate surgery. At first, I was simply excited by the prospect of observing a craniotomy. However, little did I know that this case would entirely change my perspective.

The surgery stretched for five to six hours, and hence I stepped outside for a break. In the waiting room, I noticed Asif, the father of the patient, staring straight at the wall ahead, almost in a state of trance. Next to him was a woman; her eyes were bloodshot and the dupatta covering her face was drenched with tears. She was unquestionably the mother, Shameem.

Judging by my lab coat, they assumed I was a doctor and immediately bombarded me with questions. Their desperation sent a shiver down my spine. They begged me to save his life. Me? A 17-year-old who had never even held a scalpel? At that moment, I wished I could heal their wounds, which I soon learned, were much deeper than flesh.

As I tried to calm them down, the father walked out to get some water. I was then alone with Shameem and she removed her dupatta. To my utmost horror, this revealed a huge bruise on her left cheek. Upon enquiry, she said her injury was neither any accident nor was it the first time. She stated that she could not inform the doctors. I swallowed hard to stop the tears from flowing as I tried to digest this shocking piece of information.

Shameem’s voice trembled as she narrated the entire incident which landed her son in the hospital. Her husband had gotten drunk that night which led to a squabble in which he lost his temper and struck her repeatedly. Shayan could no longer bear to watch his mother being beaten up. Therefore, this was the last straw for him. So he stepped in. In retaliation, Asif struck him and his head hit the wall. He then lay unconscious in a pool of blood.

Although the doctors managed to revive Shayan, the emotional damage done over the years was irreparable. After being discharged, Shayan and Shameem would have to return to the same house, the same problems and the same Asif. They had nowhere else to go and no one to turn to for help.

However, this story is not about these three individuals alone. This story is about thousands of Shayans and Shameems, who also face such brutalities on a daily basis. This incident is simply a microcosm of the critical state of our society today.

According to the data from the World Report, Pakistan is the third most dangerous country for women. Many Pakistani traditions and misinterpreted religious beliefs present a threat to women, specifically domestic abuse in the form of acid attacks, punishment by stoning and stove burning. Furthermore, according to Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission, over 1,000 women are victims of honour killings yearly. In 2013 alone, 389 incidents of domestic violence were reported in the media with mostly husbands as the sole culprits.

Furthermore, child abuse is becoming a bigger issue. Admonishing children by striking them has become a cultural norm. Eighty per cent of such cases are unreported which is an indication of the negligence of the society as a whole. For some adults, these children present the avenue through which they can vent their frustration. There is a lack of legal protection for children and thus, they are afraid and hopeless.

Unfortunately, the sad reality of today is that a helpless woman like Shameem is forced to turn to a 17-year-old for help. Ever since those eye opening few minutes, I have felt the burden of Shameem’s worries. To prevent such cases in the future, we need to be more nurturing as a society. It would be a mistake to assume that such a change can take place overnight. However, we need to individually be the change that we want to see and therefore take responsibility for every Shayan and Shameem.

Names have been changed to protect identities. 

Abira Afzal

Abira Afzal

The author has completed her A levels from Karachi Grammar School and is now pursuing medicine.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Jayman

    Heartrending. Recommend

  • ajay gupta

    Really a moving episode. Is this what a man thinks by family? In our part of the world, the middle and lower middle classes are so thwarted in their pursuits and deprived of a basic respectable living that their frustration is vented on those who are more vulnerable than them. It is expressed as cruelty towards wives who have nowhere to go, children who are dependent and even the stray animal on the road. The problem is worse in feudal societies like pakistan, where social mobility is next to impossible. Recommend

  • Parvez

    Nicely written……and a topic that needs to be written on.
    Senseless violence as you have described is found in societies all over the world, to a lesser or greater extent depending many factors like the socioeconomic status or the level of education etc……but the remedy that comes to my untrained mind is that effective laws need to be legislated…….but more importantly need to be enforced so that the victim feels a certain level of protection.Recommend

  • Fatima

    Wow! Great piece Abira, had goosebumps tattooing my arms. Definitely something that needs to be addressed, with long term projects implemented to ensure individuals in an abusive situation have a way out. Good luck in your journey to become a doctor, your compassion will get you far in sha AllahRecommend

  • mohammad Azeez Khan Australia

    Oh My Allah !! why did not the doctor call the police and get the husband charged or even find a shelter for the shameem and shayan. Muslim drinking in Pak land awfulRecommend

  • Ms Scotch

    A person who drink for enjoyment is a happy person and a person who over drink is a depressed person. Drinking has nothing to do with this violence..its the depression.Recommend

  • Parvez

    In my opinion……that was a ridiculous comment.Recommend

  • Anon

    Absolutely disgusting and reprehensible man and a what a disgusting and reprehensible society we have created where crimes like these go unpunishedRecommend

  • Saad Salman Zia

    That is tragic…thanks for bringing this to light.Recommend

  • thriftysmurf

    An internship in a hospital at 17? Shouldn’t you be in school? Does it work differently in Pakistan because in other countries wannabe doctors wait years for a residency.Recommend

  • Waqar Ali

    Every society has Good and Bad people. I just want to say don’t lose faith in our society. I don’t think that “Pakistan is the third most dangerous country for women.” I don’t say that, we are perfect and Pakistan is a safe heaven for women, but at least we are better than many countries. In Islamic teaching, man is superior than woman, but Islam also give woman their “Right Place” (Beti Allah ki rehmat, Jannat Maa k paoon k nechy, and Wife is Queen of home) I don’t think that anyone who know the true meanings of these above lines, disrespect any woman. At least I don’t.Recommend

  • Anon

    Touching article and wonderfully written. It’s amazing how someone so young has addressed such a pressing issue in today’s society. Great stuff Abira. Your words are moving. You have a bright future.Recommend

  • anon

    wow crazu article abzRecommend

  • Danial

    The conditions are ‘better’ but not ‘good’ or even slightly ‘acceptable’

    and women in Pakistan aren’t less, nor are men superior. This psyche is sometimes quite literally beaten into them, and that’s what they come to think of themselves. As ‘less’, as powerless. It’s overcoming the patriarchy that’s the problem.

    Islam didn’t tell aisha she can’t lead an army or that Khadija couldn’t bring home an income. Women are not less. We are for thinking that they are.Recommend

  • Qiko

    People who drink, beat their wives. I’ve seen this happen over and over again. This is especially common among Punjabi Christian families where the wife works as domestic help in someone else’s home and many of the men laze around all day gambling, drinking and doing drugs on their wife’s income.Recommend

  • ارشد حسین

    So you, as being a woman, in a great danger. So leave Pakistan and visit West as a doctor. You will find a more disturbed society in the name of civilization. Recommend

  • Maheen

    Well done Abira ! Keep it up .Keep writing and keep raising pertinent issues .It is so heart warming to see that u are sensitive to what is happening around u ..