Violation of Human Rights (Honor Killing of Women in Sindh and Southern Punjab): A Critical Analysis


This is a qualitative study and is essentially based on secondary sources of information which include books, journal articles, media reports and e-resources. The material on  honor killings is looked through the prism of recommending policy measures. A review of selected publicly available literature, media and government and non-governmental organization reports is carried out to understand this complex issue with a view to developing prevention strategies.

Outline of Paper

This research Paper comprises three Sections with a Preface, an Executive Summary and an Introduction. Section one assesses the magnitude of honor killings in Sindh and Southern Punjab while Section two examines the existing legislation on the issue, both at the national and international levels. Section three endeavors to critically analyze the possible factors contributing to honor killings with particular reference to religious, socio-cultural history and economic perspective. Finally, the Paper is concluded with policy recommendations.

Data Analysis – Honor killing in Sindh and southern Punjab

Honor killing has links to the emergence of patriarchal social structures in which honor of family and community are bound to the sexuality of women. The practice is named differently across Pakistan. For the purpose of this Paper, analysis of honor killing would be limited to Sindh and southern Punjab. In Sindh, the practice of killing in the name of honor is termed as ‘Karo Kari’ while in Southern Punjab, as ‘Kala Kali’. ‘Karo’ means ‘a blackened man’ whereas ‘Kari’ means ‘a blackened woman’, both signifying individuals who brought shame to her family by having alleged illicit relations. Black denotes immorality especially in the sexual conduct of women. The woman declared as Kari by Jirga (Tribal court), is usually killed at the hands of her own close male relative(s), in most cases being the father, brother, husband or son.

A major impediment in assessing the magnitude of the issue is that statistics on honor killing are discrepant – Aurat Foundation, an NGO, reported 705 honor killings across Pakistan in 2011, showing an increase of by 26% from the previous year[4]; Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), cited a higher number of 943 women killed in the name of honor in 2011, almost 20 % higher than the previous year[5]. It is generally believed that the number of incidents of honor killings remains higher than what finds place in official data. National Commission on Status of Women (NCSW) reports that statistics on honor killings in Pakistan are ‘confusing and imprecise’ – the Interior Ministry recorded more than 4100 honor killings between 2000 and 2004 while NGOs say there were 600 cases in 2004 alone.[6]

This discrepancy arises due to a number of factors; non-reporting of cases by family members of victims; difficulty in data collection in rural areas, the setting of most cases of honor killings; and collaboration of community members and authorities to cover up such incidents. Notwithstanding these factors, whichever way the available data is analyzed, it clearly shows a rise in the incidence of honor killings in Pakistan in the past few years, despite the enactment of specific legislation. The following table supports this assertion;

 Table 1: Number of cases of honor killings in Pakistan during Jan 2008-Dec 2011

Year No. of reported cases of honor killings
2008 475
2009 604
2010 557
2011 705
Total 2341

                   Source: Annual Report of Aurat Foundation: Jan-Dec, 2011

The largest number of honor killings, almost half of the total reported cases in 2011 (Table 2), were from Punjab, which is not surprising as it is inhabited by approximately 54% of Pakistan’s population. Southern Punjab, the focus area of this study, is characterized by abject poverty, abysmal state of development and a ruling system in the clutches of feudal lords. In this milieu, even men have limited rights, which are further whittled down in the case of women. Clan/ tribal disputes are settled by the Panchayat (tribal court) where village elders, always male, conduct a summary trial and pronounce punishment. Incidents involving women who are alleged to have dishonored the family are also decided in the same manner and punishment swiftly carried out. Most of the cases go unreported.

Sindh accounted for a disproportionately high number of 266 (Table 2), almost 38%, honor killings in 2011. In Sindh, Karo Kari is accepted and practiced as a time honored tradition by the feudal landowners, local tribe leaders, village molvi and the community. Local Jirgas, although banned by the Sindh High Court in 2004, continue with impunity and play a major role in perpetuating honor killing.

Table 2: Province wise breakdown of honor killing cases in Pakistan in 2011

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