Over this year’s scorching summer, Pakistan witnessed some of the most gruesome attacks on women and girls that it had seen in a long time. Some victims were burned to death, and others were strangled, poisoned, or shot. The most high-profile case was the murder of a social media star, Qandeel Baloch, who was strangled to death by her brother “for dishonoring the Baloch name.” Under Pakistani law, the perpetrators of such crimes can be acquitted if they are forgiven by the victim’s family members. But with new legislation passed earlier this month, that policy has begun to change.
Starting earlier this year, the Pakistani parliament, of which I am a member, has worked to block acquittals in crimes of honor. Popularly called “the anti-honor crime bill,” the measure was passed unanimously after a long debate. The new law does mark progress, but it does not go far enough to contain the violence against women and girls. Problems in the structure and content of the law remain unaddressed, and religious groups prevent parliament from making the necessary changes. Until all murder is treated uniformly in the penal code, as a crime against the state instead of against an individual, acquittals for crimes against women and children will likely continue undeterred.
In many parts of Pakistan, tribal codes allow men to take the life of a wife, daughter, or sister if she is caught in a sexual act with a man to whom she is not married. In practice, women are often killed on mere suspicion (and although the men involved may be killed too, they frequently are not.) Others are killed for refusing a forced marriage, picking their own spouse, or running away from the family home. For the most part, such crimes go unpunished because, according to Pakistani law, a murderer can be acquitted if the victim’s relatives opt to
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