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Honor Killings On The Rise In Pakistan

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan believes that violence against women in the country is increasing.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan believes that violence against women in the country is increasing.
Pakistan has taken steps to counter the troubling rise of "honor killings," but recently enacted laws were not enough to save 675 women.

That is the number of women who died in honor killings in the first nine months of 2011, according to Pakistan's leading human-rights watchdog, putting the county on track to exceed the record number of such killings recorded in 2010.

The troubling figures were released on December 20 by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), which documented 791 honor killings in 2010 and 600 in 2009.

Zaman Khan, a senior HRCP monitor speaking from the eastern city of Lahore, claims the numbers indicate that violence against women is increasing.

"The [new] unfortunate trend is that the traditions that used to exist in conservative rural areas or feudal and tribal communities have now slowly made inroads into the cities," he says. "Despite the [public] awareness and women's role in public life, the atrocities and violence against them have increased."

Just this month, Pakistan took steps to counter the trend. New laws were passed that establish severe punishments for perpetrators of violence against women, and discriminatory practices such as forced marriage or depriving women of inheritance were banned.

Human rights activists have welcomed the moves, but still maintain that compliance with these laws is a long way off.

Some Positive Developments

The HRCP's Khan notes some positive developments. He believes the media's reporting of such cases has increased, adding to public awareness of the issue.

And police, he suggests, appear to be increasingly documenting and investigating cases of violence against women -- a break from past practice when such cases were brushed aside in the name of protecting a family's honor.

Nonetheless, Khan also notes that as startling as the current figures are, they may be low.

This is because many cases never come to light as HRCP monitors and journalists cannot access remote regions in the country of 180 million people.

Khan claims conservative societal norms still favor the concealment of such incidents.

"The first thing is the culture here," he says People have a mindset and they are against women and even do not recognize their rights inside their home or outside in society. Then there are the attitudes: that of the police, the courts; and even individual attitudes inside our homes.

"We have [favored] treatment for boys compared to girls. In addition, religious extremism definitely plays a role."

HRCP's research shows that, out of the 675 women who died in honor killings this year, 71 were younger than 18.

More than half of the 791 victims in 2010 were killed over allegations of illicit sexual relations. Another 129 were killed because they had married without their family's consent.
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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan. He is also one of the authors of the Azadi Briefing, a weekly newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan.

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