Nicholas Kristof on a "worthless" woman

The Times columnist ponders the fate of a Pakistani sex slave.

Sarah Karnasiewicz
March 27, 2006 8:39PM (UTC)

I don't know how Nicholas Kristof does it.

The New York Times columnist has repeatedly written that he believes "the central moral challenge of this century, equivalent to the struggles against slavery in the 19th century or against totalitarianism in the 20th, will be to address sex inequality in the third world." True to that conviction, he now spends the better part of his time stationed in Sudanese refugee camps, South Asian brothels and Middle Eastern war zones, ferreting out women's stories of courage and cruelty and bringing them to the world.


This week finds Kristof in Khanpur, Pakistan -- where Aisha Parveen, a former sex slave who escaped from her brothel and married a man she loved, faces adultery charges brought against her by the very man who was her one-time captor. If Parveen is convicted of adultery, Kristof writes, "then her supposed husband, [the pimp], will bail her out and take her away. Ms. Parveen says she believes he will then rape and torture her, and finally kill her."

In other words, Kristof writes, "the judicial system, while ignoring the sex trafficking of children, may now, in the name of morality, hand a young woman over to a brothel owner to do with her as he wants." The hearing that will decide Parveen's fate is today.

Though sex trafficking now gets a lot of media play in the West, Kristof claims that global change is slow because "the victims tend to be the least powerful people ... poor and uneducated rural girls." He writes, Aisha Parveen "is simply one more impoverished girl from the countryside, and if her brothel's owner goes ahead and kills her, almost no one will care."


It's heartbreaking to think so. But I have a hunch that after seeing Parveen's story in the New York Times, there are now thousands of readers who would disagree.

Sarah Karnasiewicz

Sarah Karnasiewicz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Brooklyn, N.Y. Until recently, she was senior editor at Saveur magazine; prior to that she was deputy Life editor at Salon. She has contributed to the New York Times, the New York Observer and Rolling Stone, among other publications. For more of her work, visit and Signs and Wonders.

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