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Changes in policing needed to halt rise of “honour” crimes in Pakistan

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Julie Tomlin
WVoN co-editor

A women’s rights activist has said changes are needed at police level after a new report revealed that close to 1000 Pakistani women and girls were victims of so-called “honour” killings in 2011.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) welcomed new laws protecting women in its annual report published this month but added that many cases are still covered up by relatives and sympathetic police officers.

At least 850 women and 93 girls were killed in 2011 because they were considered to have damaged their family name – more than 100 compared to 2010.

The majority of the women were married and were killed by their husbands or brothers, the report says.

Around 595 were accused of having “illicit relations” and 219 of marrying without permission.

The murders form part of a large catalogue of violence against women in Pakistan: 2,900 women were subjected to sexual assault and rape in the same year and over 4400 experienced domestic violence.

Of those, 38 women suffered acid attacks, 47 were set on fire and 10 women reportedly had their heads shaved as part of public humiliation and nine had their noses or other parts of the body amputated as punishment.

Suicide rates are also high among Pakistani women. The majority of these were not due to poverty or hopelessness but “more a result of being denied the right to express themselves as human beings and a denial of bodily rights”.

The picture was further confused by the fact that many suicides were never reported and, in the case of so-called honour killings, the police frequently failed to follow up deaths that local newspapers reported as suicides as a result of the girls rowing with their families. Too often incidents involving women were dismissed as private, family affairs, the report said.

HRCP recommended the stricter enforcement of laws protecting women and new laws on domestic abuse.

Sana Saleem of the Bolo Bhi – Speak Up – rights group said, however, that changes in the laws would not have impact so long as relatives were able to pardon killers, and attitudes were stuck in the past.

“It’s great that we have new legislation but without the police and the courts reforming, changing their attitude to women, then nothing can change,” she said.

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