A day after Pakistan Prime Minister Musharraf issued a public call to end honor killings in that country, the BBC reported that two women in were murdered in what were believed to be honor killings.
In one incident, a man murdered his 21-year-old sister and her husband for marrying without first gaining the consent of the family. In the other incident, a man murdered his 17-year-old sister based on his belief that she was having an affair of some sort.
Estimates by human rights organizations suggest that 400-500 women are victims of honor killings every year in Pakistan. On February 10, Musharraf said that such murders were a “curse” and that his government would prosecute people accused of such crimes (Pakistani police have been accused in the past of doing only cursory investigations into suspected honor killings). Musharraf also called for more debate on Pakistan’s Hadood laws that, among other things, require four male witnesses for women to pursue rape charges against men.
Pakistan ‘honour killings’ arrest. Paul Anderson, BBC, February 11, 2004.
Musharraf plea on ‘honour killings’. BBC, February 10, 2004.
In October, the BBC reported that two men who murdered their cousin in an apparent honor killing in Great Britain were convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Tafarak Hussain and Rafaqat Hussain were convicted of stabbing their 21-year-old cousin Sahjda Bibi 22 times on January 11, 2003. The cousins killed her with a kitchen knife in her bedroom.
Tafarak and Rafaqat actually claimed they had accidentally stabbed Bibi 22 times, but prosecutors argued that they murdered her because she was going to marry a divorcee. The BBC quotes a West Midlands Police spokesman as saying,
The death has been called an honor killing — when a person is murdered because they have ‘brought dishonor’ upon their family. In Sahjda’s case it seems she had simply fallen in love with the wrong man. Rafaqat appears to have been unable to accept this union and took it upon himself to prevent it taking place — at any cost.
Cousins jailed for bride’s murder. The BBC, October 20, 2003.
As the daughter of Kurdish refugees from Turkey, 26-year-old Fadime Sahindal had to balance the traditional beliefs of her family with the ideas she was exposed to in Sweden. After four years of harassment from family members who were angry that she dated a white Swedish boy and was pursuing higher education, her father shot her execution style as she was preparing to leave on a trip to Kenya.
Several years ago, Sahindal was in the news in Sweden over her boyfriend. After her father ordered her to stop seeing the boy, Sahindal’s father and 17-year-old brother threatened to kill her. Sahindal went to court seeking protection, and her father received a fine and a suspended sentence.
Sahindal had been living in Sweden under an assumed name, but her father managed to track her down. Sahindal had gone to her sister’s house to say goodbye before her trip to Kenya, where her father shot her dead.
According to The Daily Telegraph, spokesmen for the Kurdish community in Sweden were “generally understanding of a patriarch’s dilemma in dealing with changing family values in a liberal country.”
The Telegraph quoted Kamaran Shwan, chairman of the Kurdish association in the town of Malmo as saying, “If a girl goes out with a boy without being married then she’s a whore.”
Protests over father’s ‘execution’ of daughter. Julian Isherwood, The Daily Telegraph (UK), January 29, 2002.
The BBC reported yesterday that women activists in Jordan are outraged over yet another light sentence for a man convicted of an honor killing. In this case, a man murdered his daughter with “an implement similar to a meat cleaver” after he learned she had premarital sex. For this crime, the man was sentenced to only six months in jail.
Although the Jordanian government has claimed over the past few years that it wants to crack down on honor killings, so far it has been all talk.
Last July, for example, CBS reported on the case of Sirhan Abdullah. Abdullah’s 16-year-old sister, Yasmine, was raped. Yasmine feared for her life and so turned to police who placed her in protective custody. After forcing him to sign an agreement that he would not harm Yasmine, she was released to her father.
By his own account, Sirhan Abdullah waited only about 15 minutes after Yasmine arrived home before shooting her in the head four times. He spent six months in jail. Abdullah told CBS that he didn’t think his sentence was fair. According to Abdullah,
I shouldn’t have been in prison for a minute. If she had stayed alive, everyone in our family would have hung his head in shame.
A bill to set mandatory jail terms for honor killings was defeated by Jordan’s parliament in 2000, and a new proposed bill that would require at least a 5-year sentence for such murders has almost no chance of being enacted into law.
Jordanian women fight ‘honour killings.’ Caroline Hawley, The BBC, January 23, 2002.
Honor Crimes. CBS News, July 14, 2001.
In March the United Nations Children’s Fund released a report highlighting the continuing worldwide problem of childhood marriage of girls. Childhood marriage is an especially acute problem in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
An extreme case is a country such as Nepal where 7 percent of girls are married before age ten and 40 percent by age 15. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, and other countries, very large percentages of girls are married before their 18th birthdays.
Attendant with child marriage are other abuses such as domestic violence and honor killings. As UNICEF executive director Carol Bellamy put it, “Forcing children, especially girls into early marriages, can be physically and emotionally harmful.”
Aside from the domestic violence problems, there are also numerous risks from pregnancy-related complications for these young brides. Pregnancy-related death is the single leading cause of mortality worldwide for girls aged 15 to 19.
Child marriage ‘violates rights’. The BBC, March 7, 2001.
The other day I was reading a book by an academic feminist who argued, among other things, that the idea that there is a universal code of morality (i.e. there are just things that are plain wrong) is a white imperialist idea. Maybe, but I still have to say that honor killings are wrong and the relativists be damned.
What’s an honor killing? An honor killing is where a man kills a female relative if he suspects she’s committed a sexual transgression, and in some cultures such violence is not only ignored but actually sanctioned by the legal code.
In Jordan, for example, two women were recently murdered in honor killings. In one case a father killed his adult daughter after she was released from jail after serving time for a sexual relationship her step brother. In the second case, a woman accused of having extramarital sex was murdered by her brothers. Of course both men and women kill each other in the United States and other parts of the world over sexual infidelity, but here’s the kicker — in Jordan the penal code specifically exempts a man from punishment if he kills a female relative to atone for her sexual transgressions.
According to the BBC (Jordanian women killed ‘for honour’), in Jordan about 25 women a year are murdered this way, and their murderers are protected by law from prosecution. That’s a rather large figure in a country of less than 5 million people.
A small group of reformers tried to get the Jordanian parliament to overturn the law protecting honor killings but failed. A protest against the law drew only a few thousand people.
And Jordan isn’t alone in having a problem with honor killings. A report released by Amnesty International last September claimed that hundreds of honor killings take place in Pakistan every year. Although honor killing is murder under Pakistan’s penal code, juries tend to acquit men who kill their female relatives for reasons of honor and judges tend to give light sentences for those men who say they killed to preserve their family’s honor.
Maybe it’s just the Western imperialist in me, but honor killing is downright barbaric and should be outlawed everywhere in the world.