They planned to shoot 19-year-old Saba Qaiser in the head, put her body in a bag, and dump it in the river. It’s pure luck that they didn’t succeed. Saba was wounded but not dead, and managed to drag herself out of the river.
Her attackers? Her father and her uncle, who sought revenge on Saba after she married without their permission.
Saba is the subject of “A Girl in the River – The Price of Forgiveness,” a documentary by Pakistani filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, nominated for a 2016 Academy Award. The film shines a light on the estimated 3,000 to 4,000 women and girls murdered in Pakistan each year through so-called “honor killings.” It documents a system where not only are such murders horrifyingly common, they rarely result in punishment. Killings are often covered up by families – and sometimes by whole communities – or are legally excused under a law that permits the victim or the family to “forgive” the murderers.
The film, and the Oscar nomination, have prompted Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to speak out publicly on “honor killings.” Sharif will show the film at his official residence, and has said that he will look into the issue and work on reform. He deserves credit for speaking out: these murders are a sensitive issue in Pakistan.
But Sharif needs to do more. He should take swift and concrete steps to end impunity for “honor killings.” He should support and work to pass a bill introduced in the Pakistani parliament in 2014 that would eliminate the option of these murders being “forgiven.” He should also direct the police to do more to uncover and investigate these cases, and he should ensure that safe emergency shelter, protection, and support is available to any woman or girl who may be at risk from their families.
Chinoy has done a great service by shining a spotlight on a these deaths, which also instill terror in every woman and girl who fears that she too might face death if she seeks to make her own life choices.
Prime Minister Sharif has taken an important first step; now it is time for him to take a few more.