Pakistan Passes Stricter “Honor Killing” Laws

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Honor killing: a fatal oxymoron, especially considering the killer and the killed are usually blood kin. In Pakistan (and other cultures as well), such a practice exists–husbands, brothers, and fathers sometimes murder wives, sisters, and daughters who have lost their purity. Justice has often evaded these incidents, as family members can forgive the perpetrator, absolving him of any legal punishment.

But on Thursday, Pakistan’s Parliament passed a law that should change that: it closed a loophole that let killers off the hook and mandates a minimum 25-year sentence. Family members still have the ability to pardon a death sentence, but not a life sentence.

“Honor killings are a cancer in our society. This law is being presented against this cancer,” said Naveed Qamar, a member of the Pakistan People’s Party, which helped push the bill.

Honor killings occur when a woman is seen as losing her purity, and a husband, brother, or father–to preserve their dignity–murder their wife, sister, or daughter. For example, if a woman marries a spouse of her choosing, a brother or father could carry out an honor killing. By the government’s count, honor killings amounted to more than 1,000 deaths last year, though human rights groups think that number is a low estimate.

The law, which was first introduced a year ago, faced friction from conservative Islamists who said it violates Sharia law. The Islamic Ideology Council, a group of conservative Muslim clerics, were called on by lawmakers opposed to the law to weigh in on it. They did not end up doing so. The group has a history of supporting controversial laws, such as one that allowed husbands to “lightly” beat their wives.

Before the new law passed, the laws of Qisas (retribution) and Diyat (blood money) allowed family members to forgive the killer of any crimes. Under the new law, which passed both houses of Parliament after four hours of deliberations, family members can only pardon a death sentence.

An Oscar-winning documentary film released earlier this year, “A Girl in the River,” attracted international attention to the honor killing practice, and many see the film as helping to put pressure on strengthening the consequences for these murders. The film follows a girl who survived an honor killing attempt.

Parliament also passed an anti-rape law on Thursday, which mandates DNA testing for rape cases. That law upset stringent Islamists as well, because according to Sharia law, rape can only be proven by multiple eye witnesses.

Alec Siegel
Alec Siegel is a staff writer at Law Street Media. When he’s not working at Law Street he’s either cooking a mediocre tofu dish or enjoying a run in the woods. His passions include: gooey chocolate chips, black coffee, mountains, the Animal Kingdom in general, and John Lennon. Baklava is his achilles heel. Contact Alec at



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