Pakistan passes law curbing honor killings

The death in July of Pakistani media celebrity and social activist Qandeel Baloch, by her brother in an honor killing, accelerated the push to change the country's laws. Both houses of the Pakistani legislature passed a law Thursday aimed at the prevention of honor killings. Photo courtesy of Twitter

ISLAMABAD, Oct. 6 (UPI) — A joint session of Pakistan’s Parliament passed a law aimed at preventing honor killings in which a victim, typically a woman, is killed by a relative.

The new legislation includes stricter prison sentences for those convicted of honor killings, and a relaxation on pardons offered by family members. The new law mandates prison terms be served even if an agreement on a family pardon is reached with the perpetrator. Those sentenced to capital punishment but pardoned by family must still serve a mandatory sentence of more than 12 years.

In Pakistan, honor killings often happen when a female family member is believed to have brought shame or dishonor on the family, or if they violated community or religious principles. It happens if a woman refuses to enter into an arranged marriage, if she is in a relationship disapproved of by family, has sex outside marriage, is a rape victim, dresses in ways deemed inappropriate or engages in same-sex relationships.

The push to eliminate lax sentencing in situations of honor killings was accelerated by the high-profile death of Pakistani media celebrity Qandeel Baloch; she was asphyxiated in her home in July by her brother, who said her actions brought shame on their family.

Law Minister Zaid Hamid commented, “We have plugged all the loopholes in the anti-honor killing legislation.”

An often exploited loophole was the allowance of a judge’s discretion in determining if the victim’s other relatives forgave the perpetrator.

The bill was accompanied by an anti-rape bill, which also passed both legislative houses. Rape convictions in Pakistan are near zero because of the current law’s reliance on circumstantial evidence and nearly unavailable DNA testing. The new law includes a provision for forensic testing of victims and alleged perpetrators, and makes rape of a minor punishable by death.

Activist groups in Pakistan have, for years, sought tougher laws to proscribe honor killings.


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