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Honour killings

December 21, 2011

CURBING certain sorts of crimes is as much about bringing them into public focus as it is about successful prosecution. This is particularly true for practices such as honour killings which, despite being counted as murder according to the letter of the law, continue to take place because they are underpinned by the medieval mindset of some who defend them as being part of tradition. Such a stance has often been reported from Sindh, where the practice is referred to as ‘karo-kari’. It is therefore worth noting that the issue was brought up before the provincial assembly on Monday. Nusrat Bano Seher Abbasi of the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional told the house that 43 women have been killed under this brutal custom in December alone, while the year’s toll for the province has reached 577 so far.

While it is praiseworthy that hard facts and figures are being discussed by the province’s lawmakers, it remains unclear what, if anything, the government is doing to curb the practice. Legislation in this regard has been in place for many years. The Criminal Law Amendment Act 2004, which amended sections 299, 302 and 325 of the Pakistan Penal Code, specifies the criminalisation of offences “committed in the name or on the pretext of honour” and mentions “karo-kari, siyah kari or similar other customs and practices” in this context. The question, then, is how many arrests or prosecutions in courts of law have been made. This is where the state’s performance has been extremely poor. In many instances, legal loopholes allow the victim’s next-of-kin to ‘forgive’ the killer, circumventing legal proceedings, and in others there is either no prosecution at all or the case built up against the alleged killer is not strong enough.

This is the area that the state and its lawmakers must work on if the practice of honour killing is to be stamped out. In every reported case, it is incumbent upon law-enforcement authorities to pursue and prosecute the suspected killers, thus sending out a strong message that regardless of tradition or culture, the crime will not be tolerated. Moreover, the media must continue to highlight all such incidents. Sindhi-language newspapers have been particularly active in this regard; their lead must be followed by other media outlets. Crimes of honour are generally shrouded in the secrecy of domestic relations. Bringing them out into the glare of public attention is an important step towards changing the societal mindset that allows such excesses to continue to be committed.