A Pakistani woman walks past a pink rickshaw at a rally to rise women’s awareness in Lahore on Oct 14.
A year since new laws came into force aimed at stemming the flow of “honor killings”, scores of young women in Pakistan are still being murdered by relatives for bringing shame on their family.
The shocking murder of Pakistani social media star Qandeel Baloch by her brother last July turned the spotlight on an epidemic of so-called honor killings and sparked a fresh push to close loopholes allowing the killers to walk free.
Long-awaited legislation was finally passed three months later in a move cautiously hailed by activists.
But, more than a year on, lawyers and activists say honor killings are still occurring at an alarming pace.
At least 280 such murders were recorded by the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan from October 2016 to June of this year — a figure believed to be incomplete.
“There has been no change,” Benazir Jatoi, a lawyer who works for the independent Aurat Foundation, a women’s rights watchdog, told AFP.
The new legislation mandates life imprisonment for honor killings, but whether a murder can be defined as a crime of honor is left to the judge’s discretion.
That means the culprits can simply claim another motive and still be pardoned, said Dr Farzana Bari, a widely-respected activist and head of the Gender Studies Department at Islamabad’s Quaid-i-Azam University.
They can do so under Pakistan’s Qisas (blood money) and Diyat (retribution) law, which allows them to seek forgiveness from a victim’s relatives — a particularly convenient means of escape in honor cases.
The convoluted courts system also often sees police encouraging parties to enter blood money compromises, circumventing the beleaguered judicial system altogether.
“Forgiveness and compromise negates justice,” Jatoi said.