RECENTLY, Parliament of Pakistan passed a bill regarding honour killing of women. Many women have to suffer worst consequences particularly by their family if they decide to live a life of their choice specifically in marriages. This right which Islam as a religion allows them is often disregarded and many women living in rural areas of Pakistan are often killed on the name of honour killing. Under the new law, relatives of the victim would only be able to forgive the killer of capital punishment, but they would still face a mandatory life sentence of twelve-and-a-half years. In the anti-rape bill, a provision to conduct DNA tests on both the alleged victim and perpetrator has been added for the first time.
Rape of minors, as well as the mentally and physically ill, would become punishable by death. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after unanimous approval of bill said that honour killing was one of the most critical problems that Pakistan had been facing and the government was determined to adopt all possible ways to remove this stain from the society. We have succeeded in our efforts and there is no honour in honour killing. He emphasized that women are the most essential part of our society and believe in their empowerment, protection and emancipation so that they can equally contribute towards development and prosperity of our country.
Lately in past few months, after the cases of women murder on the name of honour killing, it was stressed by human rights and other associated organizations that women rights should be clearly highlighted and the term honour killing should be discouraged in best possible way. The culprits of honour killings in which the victim, usually a woman, is killed by a relative walks freely because they can seek forgiveness for the crime from another family member. So after this bill the perpetrators will be punished and deterred. Similarly in anti-rape bill, with the addition of a provision to conduct DNA tests on both the victim and culprit will help in determining truth. Normally rape conviction rates in Pakistan are close to zero per cent because of law’s dependence on incidental evidence and a lack of forensic testing.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan noted that last year almost 1100 women were killed, 900 raped or abused and almost 800 committed suicide for supposedly bringing shame to their family. However there are certain cases which are often not reported and statistics are high because of such unreported cases. Women rights activists were victorious in years 2004 and 2006 for bringing amendments in laws of honour killing and rape. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2004 inserted a new offence of “honour killing” in the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). It bounds the defendants from acting as Wali or legal guardian and taking advantage from the Islamic provisions of ‘pardon’ and ‘blood money’ as provided under the Qisas and Diyat Ordinance, 1990. The Protection of Women (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act, 2006 was passed by the Parliament with opposition by some religious political parties. However, amendments were done with the passage of time for their implementation.
Human and social rights groups and politicians have for years called for tougher laws to tackle criminals of violence against women in Pakistan. They believe that these new laws will help to generate a cultural shift in Pakistani society and that women will be able to live safely and in protection. There is a dire need to create awareness not only among masses but in our police and judicial system too, as the judge or the arbiter has the power to decide whether any registered complaint falls in the category of honour killing or not. Media definitely has an important role to play here about reporting such kind of incidents and secondly in highlighting whether justice given to such victims or simply denied.
Educational awareness and social service campaigns should be used to thwart such criminal elements where often protection is given to criminals particularly with political affiliations. All steps taken to protect women will be useless unless people start accepting their identity and individuality. Definitely punishments to perpetrators be highlighted and ensured so that no one ever takes law and justice in their hand by killing women on the name of honour. Education will play key role in disabling traditions of women killing or young girls particularly in lesser developed areas. Time old custom of treating women as second class citizen must finish now where in many fields of life, they are doing wonders. Generally speaking in western eyes Pakistan is always projected as a country which has issue of violations of human rights, poverty, destabilized economy and poorly secured state. But this is not true.
Unfortunately adversaries in any area always highlight negative subjects but rarely speak about developments and good initiations. So in South Asia, Pakistan is the only country where women have more freedom of rights and expression of speech. Media is free and independent and it never hesitates in bringing light on such honour killing issues. Now all segments of society should come forward in ensuring implementation of laws for women rights. Instead of finding loopholes and pointing lacunas in women protection bills, people must come forward to facilitate women who play an important part in progress of country.
— The writer works for Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies, a think tank based in Islamabad.