Violence Against Women

Pakistan Tightens Law on “Honor” Killings

Today Pakistani lawmakers passed a law that will mandate a minimum sentence of 25 years in prison for those convicted of honor killings. The law will also close a widely controversial legal loophole that previously allowed killers to go free if they were forgiven by the family of the victim.

Under a provision of Pakistani law families could previously show mercy and forgive a person who had committed a crime against a member of the family.  Unfortunately, because honor killings are largely carried out by family members of the victim, murderers were often guaranteed a pardon for their crimes, leaving women and girls vulnerable to abusive patriarchal family structures.

Director of the award-winning honor killings documentary “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness” Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy said before the vote, “I am hopeful that this law will pass but the change in mindset will talk so much longer … I think Qandeel Baloch’s murder is the tipping point.”

Human rights advocates have been fighting this provision for years, but the issue got renewed international attention following the July murder of Pakistani celebrity Qandeel Baloch, who was violently strangled to death by her brother. Baloch considered herself to be a modern day feminist and often used her fame to speak out against society and politician’s discrimination against women, as well as openly criticize senior members of the clergy.

Baloch’s brother defended his role in the killing, stating, “Girls are born to stay home and follow traditions. My sister never did that.”

In 2015, around three people a day were victims of honor killings in Pakistan, totaling 1,096 women and 88 men. The actual figure is believed to be much higher as many honor killings go unreported or are not properly investigated by local authorities.

More than 70 percent of Pakistan’s 180 million people are under the age of 30, and many of this tech-savvy generation are actively challenging the hardline traditions of religious elders, including the state-sanctioned beating of wives who disobey their husbands.