In Pakistan, when a person is believed to have brought shame to a family’s name, they can be subject to what is known locally as karo-kari, or an “honor-killing.”
The majority of honor killing victims are women, for reasons such as committing adultery, marrying without the family’s consent, refusing to marry a man chosen by the family, and sometimes even for being a victim of rape. The United Nations estimates that perhaps up to 5,000 honor killings occur each year worldwide, with around 1,000 victims in Pakistan alone. In fact, the number may be even higher because most honor killings occur in rural areas, where they often go unreported.
A recent case that could trigger change in Pakistan occurred on May 27. Pakistani woman, Farzana Parveen was three-months pregnant when she was stoned to death by her family outside the high court of Lahore, the country’s second largest city. Her father called it an “honor killing,” because his daughter was planning to marry a man whom her family was against, bringing “shame” to the family. In fact, man she intended to marry had killed his previous wife in order to propose to Parveen.
An amendment to Pakistani law in 2004 held that honor killings should be treated as regular murders. However, under Pakistan’s Hudood Ordinance, adopted in 1979, the status of women remains inferior to that of men, putting women at serious disadvantage inside the justice system.
The Hudood Ordinance was adopted as part of the “Islamization” of the country, and is a set of laws that criminalizes adultery and non-marital sex. This blurs the line between rape and adultery, especially since under these laws a woman’s testimony is only worth half as much as a man’s. In court, a woman’s testimony needs to be backed by four men. Therefore, victims of rape can be accused of adultery or fornication if they cannot provide sufficient evidence of the rape.
Pakistan’s amendment to the law regarding honor killings also does not address the fact that the offender can make deals with the victim’s family, or be forgiven in the name of God, in which case the offenses are dropped, and the offender can go unpunished.
The Hudood Ordinance may have been adopted to establish an Islamic society, but it does not have universal support among Islamic authorities. For example, the Federal Shariat Court ruled in 2006 that a female should not be charged for adultery without evidence, and that this was not acceptable based on the Qur’an. Earlier, in 2002, the Council of Islamic Ideology recommended that the Hudood Ordinance be amended, arguing for instance that an offender should still be sentenced even in the absence of male witnesses.
Article 9 of Pakistan’s Constitution, “Security of Person,” states that no person should be deprived of their life or their rights unless as a consequence of the law. Article 8 states that the government cannot enforce a law that denies basic rights. Little wonder, then, that critics consider the Hudood Ordinance unconstitutional.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called the stoning of Parveen “totally unacceptable.” It remains to be seen whether the atrocity will bring lasting change.