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Honor Killing in Pakistan


A Pakistani woman holds a placard during a protest against honour killing in Multan October 27, 2004. Pakistan's National Assembly passed a bill on Tuesday that prescribes the death penalty for those who kill women in the name of family honour. REUTERS/Asim Tanvir MK/LA - RTREATO
A Pakistani woman holds a placard during a protest against honour killing


The expression ‘honor’ crime is a broad term, and it consists of various demonstrations of violence. This demonstration depicts ‘honor’ killing, sexual assault, confinement, or forced marriages(1)(2). This is justified in social aspect with the concept of the honor coordinated by the men of the family, round the women especially women’s sexual conduct(3). Among all South Asia countries, Pakistan is mostly highlighted when it comes to honor killing because there is the existence of contradiction of Islamic laws and implementation at the state level (4)(5).

Violence against women varies in different states(6). The comprehensive distinction in proportions of violence against women in different countries intimate that hypothetically adaptable cultural aspects play a pivotal role in defining both actual rates of violence and attitude towards its acceptably(7). According to UNFPA report, there are almost 5000 women killed each year in Pakistan in the name of honor(6)(2)(5).

This paper starts with the introduction of violence against women with a historical background of honor killing and its prevalence. It highlights the theoretical framework by discussing religious, cultural and state perspectives on honor killing in Pakistan. It also examines the influential attitude of the society towards honor killing by highlighting the transformation of culture and traditions from other religions. This review is also conducted with the intention to exhibit the Islamic stance on honor killing as per its teachings.


Different provinces within Pakistan exhibit different culture and tradition with the dominant male perspective in the society, thus being a patriarchal society (5). It is evident by Patel and Gadit (8)that Pakistani society is still following the traditional decision-making system known as Jirga despite proper legal authorities, laws and acts. According to Wasti and Niaz(4)(5) the Pakistani society adopted the practice of honor killing before its partition from sub-continent India before the partition.

In addition, Koteweg & Yurdakul(9) explain in their article that Pakistani society has adopted some customs and values from its ancient society, before the arrival of Islam. As will be discussed below in the framework analysis, with the support of evidence found in the research of Douki et al.(7) That such practices include women being buried alive due to gender discrimination, if they are involved in sexual activities.


The purpose of this review is to exhibit Honor Killing in South Asia especially in Pakistan because there are many scholars, and social worker stigmatized honor killing with religion of Islam, cultural and traditional norms(4)(5)(7)(6). This part of literature review will investigate the different determinants that influence the honor killing in Pakistan. Each determinant explains the various components of the society to ignore the most sensitive issue of honor killing.

Various Studies propose different frameworks proposed to address the honor killing issues in the literature(5). While, by following the research methodology of Hajjar (6) MOSER Framework is suitable to address the issue of honor killing by emphasizing on the equity, equality and empowerment of the women within society about the religion role of the state.

Cultural Perspective

The first perspective is cultural and traditional norms influence Honor Killing in Pakistan(4). Lari (2) explains the cultural perspective in her research in the form of notions. The first notion defines the prestige of the family within the society. This familial honor embedded with the modest and purity of the women of the family(2).Chesler & Bloom(10) defines this familial respect as “Ghairat” in Urdu and Pashto Language of Pakistan. The second notion is the ownership of women by men as property(2). According to the first tool of gender analysis framework, as explained by Hajjar(6) in her article that woman is a reproductive commodity, involved in reproductive and caretaker of the family while the men are a productive commodity. This concept migrated from a patriarchal culture of Hindu who preaches about the subordinated concept of women in society as mentioned by Niaz(5).

In addition, Pakistan has adopted several traditions and cultural norms from its host culture of Hinduism and Buddhism during the period of sub-continent India(4)(5). According to this conception, Hindu culture does not allow the women to get marry out of the cast. The same tendency exists in different cast systems in Pakistan, who make the marriages of their women only with the first cousins explained by Chesler & Bloom(10)

Pakistani society have great influence of decision making by Jirga System(6). The Jirga system is a feudal or tribal system composed of male members of community, dynamically used in Pakistan to resolve legal issues, although it is illegal described by Patel & Gadit (8). However, Hajjar(6) proposes that it is influencing component and play a vital role in the sustainability of the honor killing issue by protecting and favoring the male victim

These traditional and cultural disparities reflect in most rural areas of Pakistan where women have provided with limited opportunities for education, health and decision-making(5). According to International Report by Amnesty, almost 2000 Women die each year in Pakistan due to domestic violence including honor killing (2).

Religious Perspective

The second influential perspective is Religious factor in an honor killing in Pakistan(6). It is one of the determinants defined by different scholars (7)(2)(5) as an stimulating factor against gender-based violence especially honor killing in Muslim countries. Dourki(7) proposed in his research to penetrate upon the historical background to seek the role of the Islamic teachings and for better understanding of involvement of religion in honor killing. The evident from western scholar(9) discussed the honor killing issues in their societies in relation to immigrant especially from Muslim countries who are not ready to give up their values and tradition as compared to other religions.

Pakistan is an Islamic country where People practice Islam as an official religion(9). However, Niaz(5) has explained in her research that major population is following Islamic practices against the false interpretation done by the Islamic Scholar known as “Shiekh”. This interpretation with minimum knowledge of Islam influenced the community to adopt the illegal mode of addressing the legal issues(8).

Hajjar (6) mentioned in her research that Islam is the only religion provide more rights to women as compared to other religions. Similarly, Wasti(4) explained in his research that Islamic religion provides the rights to women for the choice marriage, divorce, ownership. The most valid evident quoted from the The Holy Quran by the Douki et al.(7) in their research as follow:

“Whosoever has a daughter and does not bury her alive, does not insult her, and does not favors his son over her, God will enter him into Paradise”(Koran, 16:58–59)

Islam also emphasize to hide the sexual relationship of male and female rather discuss at the public level and do not allow killing someone in the name of honor (Patel & Gadit, 2008). So according to Hajjar (6) there are controversial statements regarding the implementation of international and Islamic Laws implementation in different states including Pakistan. Although The Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam play a proactive role by determining that all the rights subject to Islamic law, and if there is any contradiction between Islamic and Shari’a Law, the final will predominate(6)(3). Nevertheless, the implementation of the Islamic Law and legal framework is the crucial factor to address the honor killing issue in Pakistan.

State Perspective

In the perspective of state, Wasti(4) has found in his research that one of the crticial aspect which determinants the honor killing issues in Pakistan is the poor participation of Government of Pakistan. It is evident by Niaz(5) in his article that there is a lack of interest in the implementation of the legal framework due to biased approach towards honor killing. Addition to this, Wasti(4) provided some evidence of poor performance at judiciary level to deal with Islamic Laws related to the punishment of Zina and murder with the justification to save the prestige of the family and exclusion of the victim in the name of honor seeking for family. This evidence has been endorsed by the facts found in Hajjar’s(6) Article that Pakistan exists in the context where the interfamily violence is not allowed by the Islamic laws. However, Korteweg and Yadakul(9) proposed that in order to address the barriers in implications of the legal framework, media can play a critical role to influence the states and government actively.

There are several determinants that participated towards the poor implications and fragmented state(9). Pakistan has adopted not only the cultural and traditional norms but also transformed this cultural norm to legal defense, which was implemented by the British rulers during the sub-continent India(4). According to this law, the honor killing issues were dispensed with leniency(2).

Research finding by Lari(2) rationalizes the influence of the patriarchy leadership by quoting the example of time period of “General Zia Ul Haq” in the presence of Act 2004 against the domestic violence. Niaz (5) found in her research that state of Pakistan is not proficient to facilitate the security to the victims of the honor killing and there are no appropriate ways to address the incidence of honor killing especially sexual assault cases.


This overview of the documents suggest that to address these key determinants of honor killing, it is required to introduce different interventions to address these challenges. According to recent survey Pakistan is considered on the third number in the whole word where, women are in most danger situation (Patel & Gadit, 2008). There are number of international agencies and various donors are actively providing funds and technical support to address the basic needs of health, education and human rights. Pakistan is also facing big challenge of security due to continue social war between different terror groups(3).

Lari (2) suggests in her research that the key intervention to deal with honor killing is the implementation of criminal law amendment Act 2004 against domestic violence. This is called Act 2004 and also known as honor killing act. Another endorsement found by Niaz (5)that Government of Pakistan has also signed the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which increase the responsibility of the government of Pakistan to address the honor killing issue by reforming the policy.

Heise et al.(3) Explain in their article about the contribution of the health care providers, societal response to address the honor killing issues(3).



This overview of literature reflects that Pakistan have scarce resources because there is no willingness of the victim to share their stories and incidence. The main cause to hide this information is the pressure of the society, respect for the family and meager participation of the legal professional that also belong to patriarchy thoughts (Patel & Gadit, 2008). Some reports reflect the cause of authoritative attitude towards the victim, which kept them quiet. As mention in HRCP report, most sexual harassment and intimacy relationship is happening by the male staff of mental hospital against the female, male teachers towards the female students (Niaz, 2003).

There is no organized system to follow the data relate to birth and death at union council level. All the deaths are mentioned with the natural cause death because of no- availability of the evidence of real death cause (Patel & Gadit, 2008).

Judiciary and Law

As mentioned above Pakistan has been failed in the implementation of the law in accordance with the standard of Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Some studies criticize the poor judiciary system adopted from British India who deal honor killing with most leniency (4). Since foundation, Pakistan has launched numbers of Laws and Acts to protect the rights of the women however, the implementation of these laws are always subjected, to the existing political authority. These laws include following types of Acts, Hudood Ordinance (which changed the law of rape and adultery and made fornication a crime), the Qanun- e-Shahadat Order (Law of Evidence Order which relegates women to inferior legal status and, in some circumstances, renders the testimony of a women equal to only half the weight of a man’s) and the Qisas and Diyat Ordinance (Islamic penal laws governing compensation and retribution in crimes involving bodily harm). However the selected political authority did not implement these laws successfully in 1997 to block all the opportunities for women (Niaz, 2003).

The feudal system is also imputing hindrance in the implementation of the actual law. Such type of tribal and traditional authoritative system affects the whole population of the community specifically in terms of equal rights. According to this tribal system, Honor Killing is not considered as a crime but a valid action of the male family member whose family was dishonored (Syed, Anwar All Shah G., Faiz M. Shaikh, Halepoto Ali Hassan, 2013).


There are several initiatives should be taken by the Government of Pakistan with strong collaboration and coordination of other international organization.

The most critical issue is to provide and implement the legislative policies, which should be aligned with the Islamic Laws. There is need of addressing the honor-killing issue at the state level rather at family and Jirga level. In order to strengthen the judiciary system of the court and laws, there is need to upgrade the skills of legal professional who are involved in the whole procedure and a decision making. The legal system can be mire strengthened if there will be equal opportunities for women to join more professional positions at parliamentarian level and legal state to diminish the patriarchy attitude. The victims of the honor killing should be provided the security measurements to address the threats to them from the family members and society.

To address the under-reporting issue, a well-structured data based system should be launched at the union council and district level. This data should be evidence-based management data to reflect the main causes of death and injuries of the victim. To avoid the threatening situation for the victim or the family member if the victim, the name should be placed as an anonymous for the general public. This will provide the trust relationship to the family and the victim to share their incidence with confidence.

The community workers who involve in the advocacy session by the different social organization should be provided the training with the updated tools and techniques to measure the incidence rate efficiently. They should involve in all the new interventions, design to address the honor killing issue because they can bring the evidence-based information to address the key challenges and barriers to the community.


Despite all the efforts taking place, Pakistan is not successful to reduce the rate of honor killing in Pakistan. International organization reported and scholars are interpreting the facts and figures of honor killing with most deep roots of tradition and cultural barriers. Addition to this, there is different school of thought related to religion, which is also imputing towards the honor killing issues in Pakistan. Patriarchal attitude is another main factor, which is influencing the society to ignore this criminal issue flourish the concept of male dominance among the society.

The last but not least is to add the basic rights for women in the educational curriculum and these rights should be supported with state and Islamic Laws. This clause should be applicable for both male and female students in all the discipline. This will provide the opportunities to the male actors of the society to realize their responsibility as an individual and how they can perform their role to establish a civilized society.


  1. Welchman L. Honour: Crimes, Paradigms and Violence against Women (Review). Hum Rights Q [Internet]. 2007;29:524–33. Available from: http://eprints.soas.ac.uk/2826/
  2. Lari MZ. Honor Killing in Pakistan and Compliance of Law by. A Pilot Case Study ’Honor Kill Pakistan compliance law. 2011;
  3. Heise L, Ellsberg M, Gottemoeller M. Ending violence against women. … Reports Ser L Issues World … [Internet]. 1999 [cited 2015 Nov 1]; Available from: http://www.popline.org/node/524709
  4. Wasti TH. The Law on Honour Killing : A British Innovation in the Criminal Law of the Indian Subcontinent and its Subsequent Metamorphosis under Pakistan Penal Code. 2010;25(2):361–411.
  5. Niaz U. Violence against women in South Asian countries. Arch Womens Ment Health [Internet]. 2003 Aug 1 [cited 2015 Oct 7];6(3):173–84. Available from: http://link.springer.com/10.1007/s00737-003-0171-9
  6. Hajjar L. Religion , State Power, and Domestic Violence in Muslim Societies: A Framework for Comparative Analysis. Law Soc Inq. 2014;29:1–38.
  7. Douki S, Nacef F, Belhadj a, Bouasker a, Ghachem R. Violence against women in Arab and Islamic countries. Arch Womens Ment Health [Internet]. 2003 Aug [cited 2015 Oct 14];6(3):165–71. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12920614
  8. Patel S, Gadit AM. Karo-kari: a form of honour killing in pakistan. Transcult Psychiatry. 2008;45:683–94.
  9. Korteweg AC, Yurdakul G. Religion , Culture and the Politicization of Honour-Related Violence. 2010;(12).
  10. Chesler P, Bloom N. Hindu vs. Muslim Honor Killings. Middle East Q [Internet]. 2012;19:43–52. Available from: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=76317154&site=ehost-live


The writer is International student representative at The University of Melbourne & Program Assistant at UNICEF.

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