A new low in honor killings

Pakistan grapples with a particularly gruesome case.

Published January 5, 2006 9:06PM (EST)

So-called honor killings are a devastating fact of life in Pakistan, but a case last week was so gruesome it rocked the country. The Associated Press reports that Nazir Ahmed, a 40-year-old laborer, was arrested after confessing to killing his 25-year-old stepdaughter because he thought she had committed adultery. Ahmed then slit the throats of his three daughters, ages 8, 7 and 4, as a supposed preventative measure so they wouldn't repeat their sisters behavior when they grew up. And if all that isn't horrible enough, he also made his wife watch the killings. "I thought the younger girls would do what their eldest sister had done, so they should be eliminated," he told the AP. "We are poor people and we have nothing else to protect but our honor."

More than 260 honor killings were documented by the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan during the first 11 months of 2005, down from 580 reported in 2004. The AP quotes a government source who attributes the drop to the passage of a law last year that made honor killings punishable by a minimum of 10 years in prison and a maximum of death by hanging. However, the commission's director, Kamla Hyat, says that the laws have made no real difference, since more than half of the cases that make it to court are settled by payments from the killers' relatives to the victims' families. "Women are treated as property and those committing crimes against them do not get punished," she told the AP. The story also explains that police are often hesitant to prosecute honor killings at all, since they are often regarded as family disputes.

While the downward trend in honor killings is hopeful news, the fact that Ahmed justified slicing the throats of his daughters to prevent future shame on his family is downright terrifying. The last thing Pakistani women need is for the definition of "honor killing" to be expanded.

By Sarah Elizabeth Richards

Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist based in New York. She can be reached at sarah@saraherichards.com.

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