Pakistan clears tighter anti-honour killings law - with a catch

It is estimated that more than 1,000 women are killed each year in the country for allegedly bringing shame upon their families.

 |  4-minute read |   11-10-2016
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In the cradle of earth, lie countless bodies of women sent to their grave by the sword of honour.

Whenever there is a murder in the name of honour – popularly known as “honour killings” - the state is demanded to have strict laws for the punishment of such killers. The Nawaz Sharif government in Pakistan did just that recently.

Last week, a joint session of parliament unanimously approved anti-honour killing and anti-rape Bills. Simultaneously, the Punjab Assembly passed the Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Bill in Lahore.

It wasn't easy, because for long the country's feudal lords have supported such murders ostensibly safeguarding a family's honour (often including killings or brutal torture by husbands) and influenced the authorities in their areas as well as the government to not take strict action.

On the one side, the feudal lords have used the issue to maintain their power and on the other side, religious groups have instilled the fear of honour killings in women in order to impose orthodox beliefs on them.

The Pakistani government had for long been unable to introduce the Bills despite each government promising to do so. Till now, the existing law in the country had a loophole - it allowed perpetrators of so-called honour killings to go scot-free if pardoned.

qandeel-embed_101116025606.jpg What added pressure on the government was the murder of Pakistani social media celebrity Qandeel Baloch by her brother. (Photo credit: India Today) 

What changed this time I wonder, since honour killings have been prevalent in Pakistan for long. Was there not criticism of the government over the matter in the past decades? Did the government now suddenly realise the horror that are honour killings? Or is there a political motive behind clearing the Bills?

The fact is that the Pakistani government has been facing criticism over the lack of legislation on honour killings, with the issue being raked up on social media and people using their power to raise their voice against the gruesome acts. The PML-N was hauled up time and again for not fulfilling promises on the same.

Filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, who estimates that more than 1,000 women are killed each year in Pakistan for allegedly bringing shame upon their families, had said at the beginning of this year that the “honour killing issue would gain traction if her film (A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, about a girl shot in the face by her family) won an Oscar”. 

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had even held a screening of the film, which did win an Oscar, and promised to give the legislation on honour killings more teeth in order to deter the killers and not give them an escape route - in the process also presenting himself as pro-women’s rights.

What added pressure was the murder of Qandeel Baloch by her brother on the pretext of honour - it shook the system and was like a tight slap on the face of the government. Balcoch is yet to get justice.

Now, a “joint session of parliament has approved the anti-honour killing Bill" (but) - there's still a catch – "the killer can be pardoned by the victim's party if he (gets) capital punishment".

People must understand that the government cannot bring out a strong law because religious groups will not accept it.

We must ask ourselves before rejoicing over the law on social media that will the Bill work practically in the society of Pakistan? Who will implement it? How?

Let's not forget the PML-N had put ex-dictator Prevez Musharraf on trial for treason under Article 6 of the constitution, but what happened? He was set free and allowed to go abroad.

Not only this, the Sindh government passed a law against child marriage, yet such cases are surfacing. Take Anjalee Bai, who was forcibly converted to Islam and married to a man. The Sindh High Court accepted the girl was underage and sent her to a shelter house. But no one knows about her, yet. My point is that the state has laws, but who will act on them?

It does not matter how many laws the state has unless it honestly implements them. And the anti-honour killing Bill can hardly work in a system where religious groups use the name of Islam to control power and feudal lords act as lawmakers.

The Bill's provision of pardon will surely be misused to save the killers.

If the government is serious about ending such murders, then its laws must provide for capital punishment to whomsoever commits or supports such a crime. The option of pardon should also be scrapped.

While I believe hanging is not a solution, a strict law will definitely prevent such criminal action. But first the government must answer the nation how it plans to implement the current law.

Also read: Abducted, harassed and silenced: How women journalists survive Pakistan

Writer

Veengas Veengas @veengasj

She is a journalist based in Karachi. She has worked on political, human rights and minority issues and works at regional and English newspapers.

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