Honor killing rampant in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and spreading to the West

By Radhika Singh

Two teenage sisters, 16 and 18 years old, were shot dead by their brother and father in a remote tribal region of North Waziristan in Pakistan, after video of them with a man surfaced online. They were killed to save the “honor” of their families. The accused have been arrested, say Pakistan’s police, drawing commendations from the women’s rights activists there, but the detention of such murderers does not bring an end to honor-based crimes.

Back in December 2019, an 11-year-old girl was stoned to death in Pakistan’s Sindh province, in what is known as the practice of “Karo-Kari.” Originating in rural and tribal areas of Sindh, the homicidal act of Karo-Kari is primarily committed against girls and women who are thought to have brought “dishonor to their families” by engaging in “illicit” relationships. In order to restore the lost honor, a male member of the family must kill the accused female. Refusing an arranged marriage, being in romantic involvements despite the family’s disapproval, having sex outside or before marriage, behaving in an “inappropriate” way, and at times even becoming a victim of rape could lead to one being “honor” killed.

In Pakistan, 460 cases of honor killing were reported in 2017 alone; 194 victims were male and 376 female. 253 killings were sparked by the disapproval of love affairs, and 73 were for marriage choice. Love, you can now infer, plays a vital role in getting people killed in the name of honor in that country. The situation was quite harrowing just two years ago, when nearly 1,100 women were slain to save their families from “disgrace.” A large number of such incidents go unreported, and only a few cases are brought before the courts each year.

Pakistan’s good neighbor Afghanistan seems to be giving a healthy competition to the Pakistanis in this area. Afghanistan’s Elimination of Violence Against Women Law criminalizes physical, mental, and emotional abuse, along with other facets of exploitation, namely forcing a woman into self-harm or offering a woman in marriage as a peace treaty between two parties. The futility of the law, however, came to the fore last month, when police reported on an 18-year-old woman who was throttled with an electric wire and then stabbed to death by her brother — an Afghan soldier — for refusing a marriage arranged by her family.

Badakhshan activist Asifa Karimi revealed that the victim wanted to marry a man she loved, and after rejecting the family proposal, handed herself to the police for protection. The police returned her to the family; her brother took her home and killed her within an hour. “Women in Afghanistan are still the most vulnerable part of society, not only under the Taliban-controlled areas,” asserted Karimi.

Despite suffering one of the most horrific crimes against women, rape survivors in Afghanistan remain at risk of reprisals for “dishonoring” the family by getting raped. In May 2014, when 10-year-old Brishna was raped by Mullah Mohammad Amin, her male relatives were heard hatching a plan to “kill her and dump her in the river.” Though her father along with other male members of her family was compelled to submit written guarantees against harming her, the child was pulled out of school.

A similar written guarantee was acquiesced to by the family of 18-year-old Amina, who had run away to escape marriage with someone to whom she had been forcibly betrothed. Only after the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in Baghlan Province had video-recorded promises from her father and brother was she returned to the family. However, Amina never reached home; she was shot dead by a gang of gunmen on the way. Activists maintain that the attack was a staged “honor killing.”

A lawyer for a coalition of women’s advocacy groups, Rubina Hamdard, presents an estimate of 150 such cases occurring annually in Afghanistan, while the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission claims that there were 406 recorded cases of honor killings and rapes there in the years 2011-13.

Though several apologists acquit Bangladesh of this practice, human rights groups say that killings of women in the name of religion take place in Bangladesh as well. On 10 January 1993, 21-year-old Noorjahan Begum was publicly stoned to death in Bangladesh’s Sylhet district for participating in an illicit affair.

Iran, at this moment, is rocked by the petrifying beheading of 14-year-old Romina by her 37-year-old father, Reza Ashrafi. This entire incident is hideously entangled and disturbing on multiple levels, given the fact that the 14-year-old had eloped with a 29-year-old man who claimed to have loved her for five years. The maths of it unfolds that this “lover man,” at 24, was in “love” with a 9-year-old. It gets complicated all the more because he, at 29, could have wedded the 14-year-old, had the father granted them his blessing instead of beheading the daughter. The legal age to marry there is 13.

Again, countless Kurdish women in the adjoining nation, Iraq, have been strangled, stabbed, or burned by relatives in the name of honor after they commit immoral acts. These deaths have subsequently been dismissed as suicides.

“Honor killing” is seen not only in Islamic countries, but in the diaspora, as Muslims have carried the practice of honor-based assaults even to the Western countries to which they have moved. The 20-year-old Iraqi-American Noor Almaleki was killed in 2009 after her father rammed his car into hers because of her choice of clothes, lifestyle and partner. Amina and Sarah Said were killed by their father in Texas for having non-Muslim boyfriends.

The number of such crimes is soaring in the UK, without British authorities even appearing to realize what is happening; many of the victims are British citizens. Banaz Mahmod strangled by her father and uncle in 2006, Shafilea Ahmed murdered in 2013, and Samaira Nazir stabbed to death in 2015. All are victims of honor abuse. All lost their lives in the UK.

Natasha Rattu, executive director of British charity Karma Nirvana, states that her foundation gets 800 messages from concerned citizens every month. “The summer holidays approaching is just the busiest time of year for us because we have victims of forced marriage who are very concerned that they’re going to be taken out of the country and forced into marriages,” she asserts.

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