Killed in the name of honour

Shameen Obaid-Chinoy’s film on honour killing cases in Pakistan, A Girl in the River, got nominated for the Oscars today. It tells the story of a young woman who survived attempted murder by her father and uncle after she fell in love, eloped and married a man who was deemed ‘unsuitable’ by her family.

Talking about the film, Shameen Obaid-Chinoy, the film’s director says: ‘you can go into small towns and villages across Pakistan and you will find that people think that honour killing is not a crime because nobody ever goes to jail for it.’

Ironically, over a thousand honour killings were reported in Pakistan last year, with the victims including 923 women and 82 minor girls – that makes it almost all women. These numbers are way shorter than the fuller picture as the vast majority of honour killings are never reported or registered, especially in rural areas.

Human rights agencies in Pakistan have repeatedly emphasised that women victims of honour killings were usually those wanting to marry of their own will. In many cases, the victims held properties that the male members of their families did not wish to lose if the women chose to marry outside the family. More often than not, the honour killing murder relates to inheritance problems, feud-settling, or to get rid of the wife in order to remarry.

Thanks to our deep rooted feudalism, tribalism and the continuing presence of elder councils, especially in rural Pakistan. The fact that much of Pakistan's Tribal Areas are semi-autonomous and governed by often fundamentalist leaders makes federal enforcement difficult when attempted. Such councils are the root cause of these heinous crimes as they allow the families to settle honour killing cases among themselves so that there is no legal punishment. The victim's family is given monetary compensation instead.

Also, the 1997 Retribution and Compensation Act allows a victim's legal heir to close a case at any point in the court, take monetary compensation for the honor killing and pardon the accused. So, if and when the case reaches a court of law, the victim's family may 'pardon' the murderer, who may well be one of them. The murderer then goes free. Once such a pardon has been secured, the state has no further writ on the matter although often the killers are relatives of the victim.

It's big time our state needs to take concrete actions to end this heinous practice. Removing the possibility of compromise, waiver, and compensation between the victim's family and the perpetrator can be an effective measure to curb these murders.

1905 hours
Sunday 31 January 2016   

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