IRIN - A weak judiciary, a lack of law enforcement and widespread discriminatory practices against women are fuelling a rise in honour killings in Afghanistan, officials from the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) said on Friday.
Bebi (not her real name) fears for her life after fleeing her house in the southeastern province of Paktia in June. The 15-year-old said she was forced into a marriage that she did not want. “I was engaged to an old man when I was only six months old, how can that be right?”
She's now living incognito with friends in the capital Kabul. Facilities to protect women like Bebi are virtually nil in Afghanistan and many resign themselves to their fate.
“My husband treated me like an animal, not as a human, with daily beatings and torture and locking me indoors, ”Bebi said. “I know he [husband] is pursuing me to kill me because he thinks I have disgraced him but God knows it is he who was guilty.”
So-called honour killings, which rights activists say have become increasingly common in Afghanistan, are murders of women or girls who are believed to have brought shame on the family name. They are usually carried out by male family members, or sometimes by ‘contractors’ who are paid to carry out the killing and occasionally by children too young to face the law.
The killings are commonly carried out on women and girls refusing to enter into an arranged marriage or for having a relationship that the family considers to be inappropriate. Due to such pressures from families, many women are driven to suicide or flee their homes to escape an honour killing.
According to AIHRC, some 185 women and girls have been killed by family members so far this year, a significant increase on the previous year. But rights activists say that the real number is much higher as many such cases go unreported, particularly in rural areas.
“Unfortunately, many women and girls continue to lose their lives due to this [honour killing] brutal crime. Sadly, it’s totally ingrained in [Afghan] culture, particularly in rural areas of the country,” Soraya Sobrang, head f AIHRC, told IRIN.
Sobrang blamed weak prosecution of perpetrators and a lack of awareness among women about their rights as the key factors driving the practice.
A change in attitude on the part of the police and judiciary was also needed. "Regrettably, police forces in Afghanistan either don't arrest such killers or they don’t treat them as murderers," Rahmatullah Weda, an information officer at AIHRC remarked.
Afghanistan’s government, which says it is committed to human rights and ending discrimination against women, hopes to end the practice but admits there are challenges ahead.
Dad Mohammad Rasa, an interior ministry spokesman, said honour crimes were prosecuted, but that the practice was so entrenched that stamping it out would be a long-term project.
“We have created a commission in the interior ministry to try and eradicate such cases but it will take a long time to overcome such crimes as it has become a part of many people’s culture.”
Despite considerable progress being made following the collapse of the hard line Taliban regime in late 2001 and women’s rights being protected under the new constitution, violence against women such as self-immolation, forced marriages and rape remain widespread in Afghanistan.
The increase in such crimes against women has also been explained by the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan’s southern provinces. The killing, maiming and beating of women were practically institutionalised during their ultra-conservative rule from 1996 until late 2001.
The Afghan rights watchdog has registered some 704 cases of violence against women, including 89 cases of forced marriages and 50 cases of self-immolation so far in 2006, again, a significant increase over last year, it said.