Pakistan Outlaws 'Honor' Killings ; President Musharraf Last Week Banned the Killing of Females Accused of 'Dishonoring' Their Families

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In the eyes of their families and tribes, Shahid Mustafa and Imam Khatoon committed an unpardonable, heinous crime: They eloped.

The young lovers fled at midnight from a remote village of Pakistan's southwestern Sindh Province and were married in a Karachi court two years ago. Back in the village, the girl's parents felt their daughter's actions had brought dishonor upon their family. They took their anger to a tribal jirga, or gathering, where the couple was placed under a death threat known as Karo Kari.

"The armed men of the tribe are chasing us. They threatened me to send my wife back to her family, attacked our house, and shot twice at me and my wife to kill us," says Mr. Mustafa.

Ten months ago, when Mustafa was away from home, the men of his wife's family kidnapped her and their infant son. Mustafa has not seen or heard from them since.

Though it may be too late for Mustafa's wife, and more than 1,200 other women in Pakistan killed last year in the name of "family honor," President Pervez Musharraf signed a bill last week making honor killing an explicit criminal act punishable by death. Rights activists say it is a small step forward and that more must be done to change tribal and feudal attitudes that treat women like property.

"It is a landmark decision as the law protects the rights of women and eliminates such archaic rituals," says Wasi Zafar, the federal minister for law and parliamentary affairs. "But the problem is securing the rights of women, and it will be solved gradually and slowly by collective efforts of the society. Such inhumane crimes occur due to the tribal system, illiteracy, and poverty and we have to solve these issues."

Under the British penal code that Pakistan's judicial system inherited, there was a clause of "grave and sudden provocation" which was often used in cases of honor killings to skirt convictions for premeditated murder. The acquittal ratio has been more than 80 percent in recent cases of honor killings.

Social activists and opposition politicians say the government still needs to offset the Islamic law of qisas and diyat (retribution and blood money), which allows families of the deceased to either forgive the murderer or to ask for blood money in return. Since most honor killings are committed by brothers, fathers, or other kin, the perpetrators go unpunished after they are pardoned by other members of the family.

"So a son could forgive his father for murdering his mother, a mother could forgive her husband for killing their daughter, a father could forgive his brother and so on," says Saba Gul Khattak, executive director of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) and a women's rights activist.

On suspicion of being a Kari, or "blackened girl," the female is killed usually by the men of her family, generally the brother or husband. Then the role of a feudal lord or a tribal chief comes in as they decide the fate of the murderer as well as the Karo, or "blackened man. …