Age-old practice brings Pakistan back in the headlines
Pakistan is back again under the spotlight and again for the wrong reasons -- the so-called "honor killings." The latest incident of the appalling practice for which Pakistan is the number one spot in the world has happened even in the Muslims' holy month of Ramadan. This time, two young girls have fallen victims to the brutality of an inhuman centuries-old act in the name of so-called "family honor" of a medieval tribal society.
Their crime? They allowed a young man to kiss them while he made a video of the kissing on his cellphone which took place about a year ago but circulated online recently. The incident infuriated the father of one girl and the brother of the other so much so they pulled their guns and shot the two girls - aged 22 and 24 -- dead. Murdering one's family member this way is called the so-called "honor killing" even though there is no apparent honor in these inhuman and extrajudicial murders.
There is only cruelty in killing people in this manner. And this is happening in 21st century Pakistan, a country which is not backward either under many considerations. But the age-old inhuman practice still continues in many tribal societies in many parts of the country, despite a flurry of protests from national and international activists. And they continue this vicious practice of killing their own family members beyond any due process and without even establishing victims' crime.
They just do it in the name of what they believe in "protecting their family's honor." The social media also played a part here since their killing took place only after the circulation of the short video online. But the bigger perpetrator was the one who posted the video on the internet. Pakistan, however, is not the only country where honor killings occur.
Although the practice is mostly found in South Asia and the Middle East, they happen all over the world.
But Pakistan often comes under the spotlight as this country is unfavorably known for having the highest number of such killings each year. One-fifth of the world's honor killings take place in Pakistan. In other words, roughly 1,000 such killings occur in Pakistan out of a total of some 5,000 per year in the world. The latest incident of such honor killings occurred in that country on May 14. Of the two victims, one was shot by her father while the other was gunned down by her brother.
The incident happened near the Afghan border where women have limited rights and their movements outside their home are strictly restricted under the tribal rules. Police have registered a report on the incident and arrested the father of one girl and also the brother of the other who confessed to the killings. The 28-year old man who shot the video has also been arrested and police said the life of a third girl, who just laughed alongside the two girls watching their kissing scene in the video, is not in danger.
Honor killing is an act of murder in which a person is killed for his or her actual or perceived "immoral behavior." Again, just for an "immoral behavior." Here, the victim does not have to commit any crime for this capital punishment under the age-old tribal rules of Pakistan. Men can also be victims of honor killings by members of the family of a woman with whom they are perceived to have an inappropriate relationship or if they engage in gay activities.
According to the UN Commission on Human Rights, honor killings have also occurred in India, Bangladesh, Brazil, Ecuador, Egypt, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Morocco, Sweden, Turkey and Uganda. While Pakistan and India both have recorded much higher rates of honor killings per year although the figures remain unreliable as many killings are never reported, the extent of such crimes is less known in Bangladesh.
There have been a great deal of discussions over honor killings in both India and Pakistan but India has taken more effective legal action including awarding death penalty to the perpetrators as well as their accomplices. In Pakistan, on the other hand, there is a culture of impunity. Police reports may be filed on many of those honor killings, but often there is little or no follow-up especially in the rural and tribal areas of the country.
In some rural areas, the male-dominated tribal council decides local affairs and the council's executive decisions have greater importance over state legislations. At the heart of the successive Pakistani governments' failure to take effective steps to end the practice of honor killings lies corruption and weak political institutions in Pakistan. Human rights activists led by Asma Jahangir who died in 2018 and her sibling Hina Jilani had been advocating for reform for a long time to end the practice of honor killings in Pakistan but with not much effect.
The prevalence of the age-old practice in Pakistan highlights one thing quite clearly and that is the systematic failure of the Pakistani government in guaranteeing fundamental human rights to women. In neighboring Afghanistan, "honor" crimes including many other forms of violence against women are also quite high and there is also a culture of impunity there like in Pakistan. In some cases in Afghanistan, that culture is even more profoundthan in Pakistan.
The practice of honor killing has no place in Islam. In fact, killing a Muslim unlawfully is a serious matter and a grave crime in Islam. Based on this principle, honor killing is a "transgression and wrongdoing" because it is killing one who does not deserve to be killed. To the utter shock and surprise of millions of people, honor killings have also occurred in Western countries including Canada, France, Germany and the U.K. But those killings have taken placewithin their immigrant communities.
Canada witnessed a number of high-profile honor killings which sparked an intense debate within the Canadian society over such horrific acts as well as the culture of certain immigrant communities where this practice came from. These extrajudicial killings raised huge alarm for obvious reasons in Canadian society andactually they became such a pressing issue that ultimately the Canadian government had to intervene.
Being appalled by those gruesome murders and other violence, Canadian government spoke out and made a categorical mention in the Canadian citizenship study guide about such acts. "Canada's openness and generosity do not extend to barbaric cultural practices that tolerate spousal abuse, honor killings, female genital mutilation, forced marriage or other gender-based violence." Under the existing Pakistani law, all honor killings should be prosecuted just like ordinary murders in Pakistan but police and prosecutors often turn a blind eye to them -- due to corruption.
However, laws alone are not enough to put an end to the centuries-old practice of honor killings in Pakistan. There is a need for creating awareness among the people against such practices. The tribal societies of Pakistan which are mostly responsible for honor killings must also be radically reformed.And the sooner the better. The country has already lost too many lives.
The writer is a Toronto-based journalist who also writes for the Toronto Sun and Canada's Postmedia Network