Karachi: The decision of the committee of joint session of parliament to approve the Anti-Honour Killing Laws Bill 2016 and Anti-Rape Laws Bill 2016 is a most welcome and much-needed development, although of course, a little too late.
The bills will now be presented for a vote before a joint sitting of parliament. Under the first law, relatives of the victim would only be able to pardon the killer of capital punishment, but the perpetrator would still face a mandatory life sentence of twelve and a half years, while the second law allows for the conducting of DNA tests on both the victim and the alleged perpetrator.
To make anti-honour killing laws more severe, it has been proposed that the accused gets life imprisonment of 25 years even if he gets a waiver under Qisas or Diyat and it will also be non-commutable.
While this is a most reassuring development, a look at honour killing related statistics show that successive governments have been criminally negligent in failing to present this legislation earlier.
Nearly 4,000 women have been murdered by relatives between 2008 and 2015 under the pretext of protecting ‘honour’, yet parliament has been dragging its feet over the matter. According to Aurat Foundation, Punjab alone has over half the number of such murders. Of the 344 women killed in 2015, 170 occurred in Punjab, with the second-highest figure of 116 in Sindh, and 30 and 24 in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, respectively.
These numbers and increasing public debate over the years should have persuaded those in power to pass the legislation much earlier. It appears that it took the tragic murder of Qandeel Baloch and the uproar it caused for the government to be finally jolted into action, but as important as it is to appreciate the development, it is impossible to ignore that had this legislation been passed in time, perhaps lives could have been saved or at least the guilty punished.
In the case of Ms Baloch, the state has become a complainant but one usually sees such murders go unpunished. Women’s lives are their own, not those of the men in their families, to be abused and murdered, as the state watches the massacre silently. It is hoped that this time, promises are kept because a failure to uphold them will be a crime of the highest order.