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Honour Killings in Pakistan

By Aneka Chohan

December 13, 2011

According to the Human Rights Watch (HRW), honour killings are defined as acts of vengeance, usually death, committed by male family members against female family members, who are held to have brought dishonour upon the family.

A woman can be targeted by (individuals within) her family for a variety of reasons, including: refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, being the victim of a sexual assault, seeking a divorce – even from an abusive husband – or (allegedly) committing adultery. The mere perception that a woman has behaved in a way that ‘dishonour’s her family is sufficient to trigger an attack on her life.’

The tradition of honour killings are locally known as karo kari.

Recently, a Pakistani family living in Belgium went on trial for killing one of their female family members. Refusing to accept an arranged marriage and living with a Belgian, Sadia Sheikh was shot dead with three bullets allegedly fired by her brother, Mudusar Sheikh.

Being a professor of women’s issues in Pakistan, Tahira Shahid Khan noted that there is nothing whatsoever that supports the tradition of honour killings. She says the first and most basic right that every Muslim is supposed to follow is the right to life:

“That if anyone slays a human being – unless it be (in punishment) for murder or for spreading corruption on earth – it shall be as though he had slain all mankind; whereas, if anyone saves a life, it shall be as though he had saved the lives of all mankind” (5:32).

On a global scale, 5,000 women lost their lives as victims of honour killings although the real statistics are probably higher. Although there are no official countrywide statistics for Pakistan’s honour killings, it is estimated that the country has lost 1,000 victims or perhaps more to honour killings. This is because many law offenders think they can get away with it which it highly likely.

Are Knudsen, from the Chr Michelsen Institute in Norway, says the female chastity represents the family’s ‘symbolic capital’ in honour-bound societies.

“To protect it,” he added, “the offending woman must be killed rather than divorced or excommunicated, an act which in itself is considered shameful. Killing her removes the offensive act, redeems family honour and resurrects its prestige.”

Since there are no official statistics available, the non-governmental Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) collects information on honour killings in two of Pakistan’s four provinces. Their research is based on surveys, revolving around cases reported by the media or registered with the police. Because some cases are not registered with the police (due to bribing whilst filing a FIR report) and some go unnoticed by the press, the real figures of honour killing can be much higher than the current rate.

Also, there are plenty of ‘fake honour killings’ in order to cover up other crimes (including homicide) which distort the real number of honour killings happening each year.

Fadia Faqir, in Interfamily Femicide in Defense of Honour: The Case of Jordon, says: “The use of violence to maintain privilege is not a neoteric phenomenon, rather it is historically entrenched, and has turned gradually into ‘the systemic and global destruction of women, with the institutionalisation of patriarchy over the countries.”

Despite the 2005 legislation, honour killings are still on the rise in Pakistan and male members continue to get away with the murders of their female family members. Although NGOs, human rights groups and women activists have called for the government to come up with solutions for this issue, the authorities have turned a blind eye towards this issue.

Source: The Daily Times, Lahore