More than 900 women and girls were murdered in Pakistan last year for violating standards of “honor,” according to the country’s principal human rights organization.
“At least 943 women were killed in the name of honor, of which 93 were minors,” said the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in its annual report.
Among the victims were seven Christians and two Hindus.
The Commission identified 791 “honor killings” in 2010.
Another 4,500 women were targets of domestic violence last year, the rights group added.
Honor killings refer to the murder of people (primarily women) who have supposedly committed some act deemed to be a defamation of a family’s honor.
Such acts may include marrying someone regarded as unsuitable, sex before marriage, demanding a divorce, a woman (married or unmarried) being raped, or even things as mundane and innocent as calling a radio station to ask for a song to be played on air, a girl seen talking to a boy.
Although honor killings are typically associated with Muslim countries like Turkey, Iraq and especially Pakistan, the practice has nothing to do with Islam. Rather, it is rooted in ancient tribal customs whereby the honor of a family or a whole village is represented by the morality, chastity and proper behavior of its women. Any perceived violation of that sense of honor often leads to deadly consequences.
HRCP explained that the death toll from 2011 included 595 women who were suspected of conducting “illicit relations” (i.e., having sex before marriage of carrying on extramarital affairs), while another 219 paid with their lives for marrying without the family’s permission.
In the majority of these cases, the killer was the girl’s father, husband or brother.
Moreover, the 943 figure is believed to be a gross under-estimate of the true carnage since many such murders are covered up as accidents, suicides or are simply not reported to the authorities.
Throughout the year, women were callously killed in the name of 'honor' when they went against family wishes in any way, or even on the basis of suspicion that they did so, the HRCP stated. Women were sometimes killed in the name of 'honor' over property disputes and inheritance rights.
Human rights activists in Pakistan are demanding that the government strengthen criminal laws against the perpetrators of honor killings and are urging police to take such cases more seriously, rather than shrugging them of as private family matters.
While some progressive legislation concerning women was passed in the National Assembly, there is the need to follow up on its implementation and for there to be exemplary cases, the report stated.
More women… need to be facilitated into the workforce on better terms of employment to make them a part of the social force and able to withstand family pressures and domestic violence.”
Sana Saleem, of Bolo Bhi, a Pakistani rights group, told the British paper The Daily Telegraph: It's great that we have new legislation but without the police and the courts reforming, changing their attitude to women, then nothing can change.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.