Adopt a comprehensive law against honour killing

The reason for these killings is that many families tie their reputations to their women. If she does something wrong, the only way to rectify the family’s honour is to have a wife, daughter or sister killed

On July 24, 2014, a young girl was shot dead allegedly by her father in the name of ‘honour’ in Akhundani village, Jhal Magsi district. Regrettably, she was not the only one who has had to face this brutality. There have been countless cases that Pakistan has faced, only increasing with time. A young mother of two sons was shot dead by a family acquaintance because she had sought divorce from an abusive husband. Another woman was shot dead in front of a tribal gathering after she had been repeatedly raped by a local government official and, not many days ago, a 25-year-old girl named Farzana, in love with a man, married him out of her own choice. She must have had a lot of dreams for her new family and the future of the child she was supposed to give birth to. This three-month pregnant woman was beaten to death with bricks by members of her own family because, in their judgment, she had dishonoured her family by marrying a man not of their preference.

These brutal assassinations are based on the belief that a woman is the possession of her family. For whatever reason, should the woman’s virtue come into question, or if she refuses to act upon her father’s, husband’s or brother’s wishes, her family’s ‘honour’ is thought as being put to shame and the woman must be killed by a male relative to restore the family’s reputation in the community. Often, women are killed because of mere suspicion that they have engaged in illicit sexual doings or immoral acts. Honour killings are part of a culture, not a religion, and occur in Arab communities, in the US, and many other countries. The reason for these killings is that many families tie their reputations to their women. If she does something wrong, the only way to rectify the family’s honour is to have a wife, daughter or sister killed as, in their opinion, blood purifies honour. Even if they love the woman, they consider it their duty to kill her. It is important to realise that people who commit these killings are also victims in their own way. Their families put all the burden and pressure on their backs. If they do not kill, they are responsible for the family’s dishonour. If they do kill, they will be heroes and everyone will be proud of them.

It is estimated that, in Pakistan, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), more than 1,000 women were victims of these crimes in 1999. According to Aurat Foundation’s statistics, collected for its reports on violence against women, a total of 557 women were killed in the name of honour in Pakistan in 2010 while 604 women in 2009 and 475 women in 2008. The dilemma in Pakistan is that such killers are treated with leniency and these crimes are socially sanctioned to a level that, once in Pakistan, a serving senator supported honour killings during a Senate discussion on the murder of a girl in 1999. Although it may be noted that so-called honour killings tend to be prevalent in countries with a majority Muslim population, many Islamic leaders and scholars have condemned the practice and denied claims that it is based on religious doctrine.

In 2004, some legal amendments were made to the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) to address the issue of honour crimes through an act of parliament. This victory, after relentless efforts of women’s rights organisations and committed activists along with active women in political parties, was soon shrouded in disappointment because the law did not offer any headway and turned out to be ineffective. Despite protests and reservations by civil society organisations and women’s rights activists like Shahla Zia and Maliha Zia Alvi of Aurat Foundation, the original bill prepared by Shahla Zia was severely mutilated, with the final outcome that its most vital clauses were dropped when it was passed by the National Assembly.

The trouble lies not just in the law itself but also in its implementation. With the unspoken consent of society, the murderers are given protection and impunity from within the community, extending to the police and even the courts. Apart from the inbuilt biases within these bodies, problems also lie with the methods of investigation and lack of updated machinery and tools, etc. The law in patriarchal countries has sustained the cultural tradition that women have an inferior status. Men are only mildly punished or not punished at all for murdering a female relative whose behaviour is judged as bringing dishonour to the family.

Combating the epidemic of honour killings requires the understanding that these murders differ from plain homicides, revenge killings and domestic violence. Their inspiration is different and based on codes of morality and behaviour that typify our culture, often reinforced by fundamentalist religious dictates. It now becomes necessary to go beyond merely protesting and identifying the gaps in the law. The government must take responsibility in identifying different strategies to conduct proper investigations into such cases, arrest and prosecute the perpetrators of these horrific crimes.

A link to the article can be found here.