A Pakistani family is under brutal assault for refusing to murder their daughter for being a victim of rape. The case serves to underscore Pakistan’s malevolent role as the world epicenter of “honor killings.”
Kainat Soomro was 13-years old when she was kidnapped in 2007 near the Pakistan town of Dadu and viciously gang raped for three days by four Muslim men. While fortunate enough to finally escape her captors, Kainat’s ordeal was tragically just beginning.
Despite being the victim of rape, Kainat was instead declared to be a kari, or “black female,” by tribal elders in her town for having the temerity to have sex outside of marriage. As a consequence of that decree, Kainat’s family was expected to subject her to an honor killing.
However, despite the pressure to murder Kainat, her family refused. As Kainat later pointed out, “It is the tradition, but if the family doesn’t permit it, then it won’t happen. My father, my brothers, my mom didn’t allow it.”
Instead, her family opted for a saner and less barbaric route by seeking to have Kainat’s rapists prosecuted for their heinous acts. Unhappily for the Soomro family, that decision would subject the family to years of sustained attacks and beatings by fanatical fellow Muslims, assaults that eventually drove the Soomros into a grim state of poverty.
Unfortunately, despite the Soomro family’s heroic efforts to spare their daughter’s life, Kainat’s rapists were acquitted in May 2010 after a local judge declared her sole testimony as an “alleged rape survivor” to be insufficient. Regrettably, the anguish of that court decision only deepened a month later when Kainat’s brother was murdered by unknown assailants, ostensibly for the sin of having the audacity to defend his sister during her trial.
Now, 17-years-old, Kainat and her family remain undeterred. To that end, they are petitioning higher Pakistani courts to appeal the ruling in her case. However, beset by severe pressure to withdraw her appeal, the Soomros remain under attack by men affiliated with her rapists, men who recently vandalized their apartment, beat the father and brother with iron rods and threatened to kill Kainat.
Sadly, the decision by the Soomros to resist community efforts and not kill their daughter remains the exception to the rule in Pakistan. The sad reality is that more often than not, Pakistani families stand eagerly ready to murder their wives and daughters for any “damage” they may have done to the perceived “honor” of the family.
That “damage” can occur when a woman has the misfortune of being raped; marries a man of her own choosing; has any contact with an unrelated male; dates a Christian; openly flirts; or adopts Western ways of dress and behavior.
While in most cases husbands, fathers or brothers of the offending women in question commit the murders, in some cases, tribal councils decide that the woman should be killed and, as such, send men to execute her.
According to the United Nations, about 5,000 honor killings take place each year, most of which take place in Muslim countries in the Middle East and South Asia. For its part, Pakistan accounts for nearly 20 percent of those killings, nearly 1,000 a year, the most of any nation. Honor killing incidents in Pakistan reported in 2011 have included one girl burned alive, five girls dying from acid attacks, and four girls tortured to death.
Recent Pakistani honor killings have also included a 15-year old girl strangled to death by her uncle for suspicion of having sex with a Christian; a 21-year-old woman electrocuted to death by her family for secretly marrying a man they disapproved; and a Pakistani man shooting down six of his teenaged daughters on suspicion they were involved in relationships with older boys in the neighborhood.
In fact, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), 46% of all female murders in Pakistan are considered to be honor killings. As a spokeswoman for the Pakistani Women’s Rights organization, Aurat Foundation, said, “Incidents involving murder of women for honor have increased to alarming proportions.”
Of course, it should be noted that the number of honor killings are probably much higher than the numbers actually reported. Either most murders go unreported or family members of the victims simply report the girls as having committed suicide.
Part of the reason for Pakistan’s increase in honor killings, according to an HRCP spokesman, stems from the simple fact that “people are getting away with it,” noting that “only 20 percent of cases are brought to justice.”
That deplorable result may arise from Pakistan’s penal code which treats honor killings as murder, but also allows the family of the victim to pardon the murderer, who is usually a relative who committed the murder on the family’s behalf.
Yet, it’s certainly not too surprising that Pakistan’s judicial system has been slow to react to the horrific abuses being hurled at Pakistani women. The Executive Director of the Centre for Peace and Civil Society notes that domestic violence is not explicitly prohibited in Pakistani domestic law. In fact, Pakistan is the only South Asian country that has yet to pass a law on domestic violence.
So, given a lack of support from Pakistan’s judiciary and fearful of reprisals launched at them by family and community members, most Pakistani women do not report instances of abuse.
The result has been, according to a 2011 report on Pakistan by Amnesty International, an explosion of rampant “gender-based violence, including rape, forced marriages, honor killings, acid attacks and other forms of domestic violence.”
Not surprisingly, such high levels of violence have led to an estimated 90 percent of all Pakistani women having experienced some form of domestic abuse in their lives. As Gulnar Tabussum, spokeswoman for Women’s Action Forum said, “The status of women is low and also brutality is growing by the day.”
That sad fact was perhaps best expressed recently by a young Muslim man from Pakistan’s Kurdistan region, an area in which it has been reported that in September of 2011, 25 women alone were murdered under the guise of honor killings. According to the man, “Here is man’s world. If you are man, Kurdistan is a nice place, but if you are a woman, it is a tragedy.”
Sadly, for Kainat Soomro and millions of other Pakistani women and girls, life in all of Pakistan is one never-ending tragedy.