Media briefing: Violence against women in Pakistan
Subject: [women-rights] Media briefing: Violence against women in Pakistan
Date: Tue, 16 Apr 2002 18:18:11 +0100
* News Release Issued by the International Secretariat of Amnesty
16 April 2002
“The government of Pakistan vigorously condemns the practice of
so-called honour killings. Such acts do not find a place in our
religion or law. Killing in the name of honour is murder and
will be treated as such.” General Pervez Musharraf, April 2000
Women in Pakistan are severely disadvantaged and discriminated
against. Violence against women in the home and community as well
as in the custody of law enforcement officials is on the rise.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) found that in 2000
a woman was raped every two hours, and that hundreds were victims
of “honour” killings, domestic violence, burnings and murder.
While a few positive changes have taken place over the
last couple of years, the government is still failing to protect
women from these abuses.
Many cases receive media attention and the involvement of
human rights organizations, but they are quickly forgotten.
Other women suffer abuses in silence for years, die violent
deaths and get buried in unmarked graves.
Women’s awareness of their rights has increased thanks to
the work of Pakistani women’s rights groups. However most women
remain ignorant of even their most basic rights. A newspaper
survey in 2000 reported that almost 90% of women did not realise
that they had any rights at all.
In its fifth report on women in Pakistan, Amnesty
International summarizes the current government’s commitments to
uphold women’s rights, describes cases of abuses in the
community, in the home and in custody and the failure of the
criminal justice system. The report also sets out
Family and community
Domestic violence, which includes physical abuse, rape, acid
throwing, burning and killing, is widespread in Pakistan. Few
women would complain under legal provisions relating to physical
injury. For those who do take the step, police and the judiciary
usually dismiss their complaints and send them back to their
Very poor women, women from religious minorities and
women bonded labourers are particularly vulnerable to violence in
the community and home.
According to the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences,
over 90% of married women report being kicked, slapped, beaten or
sexually abused when husbands were dissatisfied by their cooking
or cleaning, or when the women had ‘failed’ to bear a child or
had given birth to a girl instead of a boy. Another organization
stated that one woman is murdered and one woman is kidnapped in
Pakistan every day.
? The case of Shukria
On 22 October 2001, Sharif in village Goharpur, Sheikhupura
district, Punjab province, tied his wife Shukria’s wrists and
ankles with rope, poured kerosene over her and with the help of
his mother and sister set her on fire. The couple had been
married for ten years. As they remained childless, Sharif wanted
to marry another woman but Shukria did not agree to this.
Neighbours tried to rescue Shukria but she died shortly
afterwards in hospital.
Women continue to die painful deaths in so-called “stove
burn” accidents in the kitchen. The HRCP estimates that less that
20% of deaths lead to arrests and most suspects are released
Acid-throwing is on the increase. Acid burns do not
usually kill but result in hideous disfiguration and suffering,
destruction of self-esteem, and confine women to the home. The
government has done little to restrict the sale of acid or to
punish those who use it to injure women.
Forced marriage of young girls continues to be reported
despite a legal minimum age of 16. While slavery is illegal in
Pakistan, girls and women continue to be traded to settle debts
or conflicts. In Sukkur in 2000, a six-year-old girl was married
to a 60-year-old man when her family was unable to repay a debt.
According to newspaper reports the marriage was consummated and
the little girl screamed loudly for hours after the rape.
A form of forced marriage specific to the interior of
Sindh province is the “marriage” of girls and women to the
Qur’an. This keeps the woman’s share of property in the family
as she will have no children to pass it on to. Human rights
organizations report that there are currently over 5000 women
married to the Qur’an in Sindh.
Pakistan is both a country of origin and a transit
country for the trafficking of women for domestic labour, forced
marriage and prostitution. This form of slavery is organized by
crime networks that span South Asia.
The open sale of girls and women in markets is reported
in underdeveloped areas such as parts of Balochistan.
Some women, both local and trafficked, are killed if they
refuse to earn money in prostitution. Some are forced into
prostitution by their husbands. Journalist Sufi Mohammad Khan
from Badin, Sindh, was killed on 2 May 2001 after reporting
extensively about trafficking in drugs and women in the
Tharparkar area of Sindh which happened with the connivance of
apathetic authorities. He reported that some 70 women have been
kidnapped in Sindh and Punjab, detained by the Arbab feudal
family and forced into prostitution. The journalist was bribed
and threatened by members of the family.
“Honour” killings are carried out by men who assume that their
wives, daughters or sisters have in some way contravened norms
relating to the behaviour of women which reflect on and damage a
man’s “honour”. Often the grounds for such assumptions can be
very flimsy and amount to nothing more than a suspicion about a
woman’s fidelity. Men are also known to have felt shamed if
“their” women seek divorce or become the victims of rape.
The exact number of “honour” killings is impossible to
ascertain as many go unreported. Media and human rights
organizations estimate that three women are murdered each day.
In 2000, the HRCP recorded over 1000 “honour” killings in Punjab
alone. Prosecution of “honour” killings is lax and only a few
men have been convicted.
In the higher levels of government and the judiciary,
“honour” killings are recognised as a serious problem. The
government of Pakistan has condemned “honour” killings as murder
and a seminar in Karachi in April 2001 looked at problems of
redress in “honour” crime cases. However no action has followed
and “honour” killings continue to be reported daily.
— In December 2000, three brothers overpowered their
sister-in-law, Anila, sprinkled kerosene on her clothes and set
her on fire in a village near Sukkur when they suspected her of
infidelity. Her father rescued her and took her to hospital
where, with 85% burns, she died.
— In early 2001, Mir Afzal cut off the nose of his wife Amroz
Khatoon in Karachi as he suspected her of infidelity. He then
attempted to kill her but neighbours alerted by the noise
interceded. Police arrested the man and his accomplices but Amroz
Khatoon has received threats to her life if she pursues her
— In March 2001, a 60-year-old widow, Hidayat Khatoon, and
55-year-old Baksh Ali were killed by the widow’s son in Chandan
village, district Sukkur. When the son surrendered to police, he
said that he had been teased by villagers over his mother’s
alleged affair and had therefore killed both.
— In July 2001, 16-year-old Shoukat Labano in Sukkur district,
shot dead his mother Rahima (33) when he suspected her of an
Increasingly “honour” killings involve not only the woman
but several other family members. In November 2000, Mohammed
Umar Magsi killed his 11-year-old daughter with an axe because he
suspected her of having an affair. When his wife and younger
daughter tried to intervene, he killed them as well. On 8 January
2001, Riaz Ahmed axed to death his wife, three daughters and two
sons, because he suspected his wife of adultery. On 16 January
2002, Jamal threw hand grenades into his father-in-law’s house
when his wife refused to return to him, killing five of her
relatives and injuring eight.
The HRCP has observed that increasingly young boys are
forced to attack or kill sisters who are opposed to a forced
marriage. Afterwards the boys are formally pardoned by their
fathers which allows them to go free.
The emergence of “fake honour” killings is a worrying new
trend. There is a pattern of men accusing their wives of being
dishonourable with wealthy men purely for financial gain. The
wife is declared “kari” (black woman, one who brings shame) and
is killed. The suspected man is made to pay off the husband and
he is “pardoned”.
In a few cases, women have begun to resist violence in
the name of “honour”. A young woman escaped death when she
fought her husband. The local landlord held a jirga (tribal
council) which established her innocence and asked the husband to
apologise and take her back.
Women who marry men of their own choice are often seen to
damage their family’s “honour”; they are frequently detained by
their parents, forcibly married to someone else, threatened,
humiliated, assaulted or killed. If a couple marry in court
against the will of their parents, and the parents challenge the
union, they can be charged with “illicit” sexual relations under
the Zina Ordinance (which prohibits sex outside marriage).
Newly-weds are advised to have their marriage confirmed by a
magistrate and seek shelter with friends for some time. In many
cases families accept the fact of marriage but sometimes their
sense of shame is not appeased. Robina and Khushi Mohammad were
killed in May 2000 by Robina’s uncle and two brothers over two
years after their wedding — they had been in hiding but had
finally returned to the husband’s home.
Physical abuse of women in custody continues to be rife in
Pakistan. Despite promises of police reform, police continue to
use torture to intimidate, harass and humiliate detainees to
extract money or information. Women are subjected to
gender-specific abuses including sexual harassment, public
undressing and parading, and rape. Conditions of detention for
women are also of grave concern.
In April 2000, President Musharraf made a range of commitments to
protect women’s rights. Since then, there have been many
positive signals and pronouncements but little effective change.
The authorities are often aware of a series of abuses and
do not intervene. Some officials prevent women from accessing
the criminal justice system and seeking redress.
Some court judgments over the past year-and-a-half have
adequately protected women’s rights while others have treated
women as a man’s property. This inconsistency indicates that the
law is not being equally applied and the gender bias of
individual judges is determining whether a woman is protected or
Police confronted with complaints of domestic violence
are known to refuse to register the complaint, to humiliate the
victim or to have advised the battered woman to return home. Even
the staff of state women’s shelters frequently advise women to
accept reconciliation and return home.
Conviction rates for rape are very low. Police rarely
respond adequately as they side with local people with influence
who are involved in the crime. Women frequently don’t seek
redress out of shame but also because of the possibility of being
accused of Zina if they cannot establish absence of consent.
Amnesty International’s report makes recommendations which are
well within the powers of the Government of Pakistan to implement
and do not require a huge investment of resources. They do
require political will and the determination that violence
against women is unacceptable and cannot be allowed to continue.
However, underlying the abuses suffered by women is a
discrimination perpetuated by society as a whole. In this
regard, everyone has a role to play ?government, political
parties, religious groups, all elements of civil society and
individuals. Everyone has a responsibility to commit themselves
to the equality of all human beings, irrespective of gender.
The recommendations include:
— The government should clearly and publicly condemn all acts of
violence against women. It should develop policies and
disseminate materials to promote women’s safety in the home and
community and in detention.
— The government should prohibit all acts of violence against
women and establish legal protection. It should review existing
laws, including the Zina law and the qisas and diyat law.
— Investigate all allegations of violence against women and
prosecute and punish those found to be responsible.
For a copy of the report please visit Report: