On September 20, a man in Peshawar killed his two daughters because he thought they had boyfriends, and felt “ashamed” – the latest in a series of recent horrific acts of violence perpetrated in the name of “honor.”
In a patriarchal culture like Pakistan’s, where domestic violence is rampant, it is not unusual for men to murder female relatives to punish behavior they deem unacceptable. In most reported cases, the harshest punishments on grounds of “honor” come from male-dominated jirgas, tribal and village councils.
There are no credible official figures on “honor” killings because they often go unreported or are passed off as suicide or natural deaths by family members. But as an indication, in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province 94 women have been murdered by close family members in 2017.
In August, Bahkt Jan,15, and Ghani Rehman, 17, were killed with electric shocks by family members on the order of a tribal council in Karachi which ruled that the young couple decision to elope violated “honor.” Also in August, a man in Lahore decapitated his wife for refusing to quit her job as a factory worker. In June, a tribal council in Khyber agency ordered the “honor” killing of Naghma, a 13-year-old girl who was accused of “running away” with men. She was subsequently rescued by security forces and released into the custody of relatives, who murdered her.
In October 2016, following public protests after Qandeel Baloch, a Pakistani model, was killed by her brother, parliament passed an anti-honor killing law. The new law, which followed an Academy Award-winning documentary about her murder, included harsher punishments and partially closed a loophole allowing legal heirs to pardon perpetrators who are usually also a relative.
The recent spate in “honor” killings demonstrates that harsher punishments do not automatically translate into justice for women. The authorities should ensure that police impartially investigate “honor” killings without bowing to political or other pressure from religious and local leaders, including jirgas. The government should also ensure women and girls have access to safe emergency shelter and other services, especially protection, when they report risks from their family.
The government should issue clear guidance in consultation with women’s rights groups, on safety assessments the police should conduct before releasing girls into the custody of their relatives. The Pakistani government should act quickly and decisively to ensure that no interpretation of religious or cultural norms prevails over basic rights.