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Honor killings

January 27, 2012

Every day people in Pakistan open their newspapers to find at least one story describing how a woman has been killed in the name of "honor."

A Pakistani woman looks out a window
Tens of thousands of Pakistani women are subjected to abuseImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Every day people in Pakistan open their newspapers to find at least one story describing how a woman has been killed in the name of "honor." Despite legislation against honor killings, women in Pakistan continue to die at the hands of those who claim to be restoring family honor.

A report by lawyer Maliha Zia Lari titled "Honor Killing in Pakistan and Compliance of Law" reveals that more than 77 percent of honor killing trials result in acquittal. The same study also states that some men are also willing to sell the women in their families or kill them to get rid of them. Lari carried out this study in collaboration with the Aurat Foundation, one of the major non-governmental organizations working for women rights in the country. The biannual report by the Aurat Foundation based on data collected between July 2011 and December 2011 states that 3,153 cases of violence against women were reported from Punjab province alone. But for the most part, those who kill are not found guilty of murder and punished. Most police officials consider honor killing to be a family matter. However, that is only one side of the story.

A spokesman of the deputy inspector general’s office in the southern province of Sindh says when officials try to investigate they are deliberately obstructed in their work. Witnesses do not come forward, evidence is concealed and the families concerned do not cooperate. Most of the time investigations into honor killings stall and do not lead to any specific results.

Lari regrets that the 2004 Criminal Law did not have the desired results and claims that since its implementation, honor killings have actually increased. Indeed in 2012 so far, some 26 cases of honor killings have been reported from across Pakistan. Human rights activists fear that the number might rise in the coming years.

Pakistani women rally on International Women's Day
Pakistani women have been calling for greater civil libertiesImage: AP

What happened in Sindh on January 18 is typical. Lateefa, a women living in Shahpur village, was preparing dinner for her family when her husband rushed in and shot her over an alleged extra-martial affair. Lateefa died on the spot. Despite confessing to the killing, her husband has still not been arrested. Her body was sent to her parents’ house, who did not pursue the case, knowing it would be futile. Lateefa was five months pregnant.

The 'revenge' that never ends

Women are regularly murdered in Sindh in accordance with the brutal tradition of karo-kari. The victims are declared to be kari (the dishonored). If a man is prominently involved, he is not spared either. Nooruddin and his wife Janal, residents of Sukkur in Sindh, were shot dead on January 15 soon after they got married without the consent of their families. They had gone to stay at a relative’s house. This ‘honor’ killing was later described as being the result of animosity between the murderer and the victims.

Even in death the victims of the honor killings in Sukkur are not left in peace. No-one mourns them. Neither does anyone perform the traditional funeral ceremony for Moslems. There is a separate graveyard for the karis, guarded by armed men who prevent people from visiting the graves. Graves do not bear name plates in this barren wilderness. Locals say this is their way of punishing the men and women for "bringing a bad name to their clans."

The story is no different in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan's northwestern province that shares a border with Afghanistan. It also witnessed a marked increase in honour killings at the start of 2012. In one of the cases, a woman was allegedly killed by her in-laws over suspicion of ‘immoral’ character. She was apparently doused with kerosene and set on fire. Her parents later found her charred remains in her kitchen. Romana’s mother, Taj Bibi, accused her daughter’s in-laws of the murder and said, "They did not even bother to call us or take her to the hospital." Romana’s parents were informed after her in-laws had confirmed that she was dead. The police investigation concluded that her death was the result of an "accidental fire". The case was closed.

A woman holds a child
Honor killings are on the rise, rights groups sayImage: AP

Gathering data

Against this background it is difficult to gather firm data. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s (HRCP) report on honor killing states that 675 women were killed in the first eleven months of 2011, a far lower figure than that recorded by women's groups. This number included some 100 girls under 18. Some 450 women were killed for having ‘illicit’ relationships, and 129 for marrying ‘without permission.’

Not surprisingly human rights activists accuse the government of negligence and failing to ensure that police investigations take place properly. For their part government representatives claim that the number of honor killings is falling. However, Human Rights Watch Pakistan Director Ali Dayan Hasan rejects this claim and says that the state’s inability to enforce the rule of law is at the heart of this institutional failure. Such matters cannot, he says, be left in the hands of tribesmen and family elders. The complete HRCP 2011 report is expected to be released in February 2012.

Muhammad Tehseen, executive director of South Asia Partnership Pakistan, dismisses the idea that the problem can be solved by more legislation. Implementation of the existing laws properly and wholeheartedly is, in his view, the key. Moreover, Tehseen says there is a need to create awareness of the problem in society. "Who defines honour for these men and why do they think it is restored at the cost of a life?" he asks. This is clearly a question that Pakistani society needs to address urgently.

Author: Ayesha Hasan
Editor: Grahame Lucas