Sometimes your family and friends are not fans of your significant other. But in certain communities, this objection is framed in terms of “family honor” and taken to an extreme.

With all the trappings of a tragic love story, “honor killings” are a frightening reality for women in Pakistan. Women are sometimes killed for simply exercising their right of choice in marriage, and it looks like this problem is getting worse. In this past month alone, at least four women have been burned alive by members of their own family, community, or by relatives of a rejected suitor.

Earlier this month, on June 8, 18 year-old Zeenat Rafiq, was burned to death in Lahore by her mother, brother and brother-in-law for “bringing shame to the family” by marrying without family consent. She had eloped with husband Hasan Khan and was lured back home on false promises of a wedding celebration for the couple.

In late May, a 19 year-old school teacher, Maria Sadaqat was tortured and burned to death by a group of people including her own family members, for refusing a marriage proposal from the son of the owner of the school where she worked.

In early May, a jirga, or traditional assembly of elders, sanctioned the death of 16 year-old Amber for helping her friend marry the boy of her choice. Her body was found inside a vehicle that had been set on fire in Abbottabad, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Image: Usman Malik

In the first four months of this year alone, an estimated 109 people have already lost their lives and the number will continue to soar.

In 2015 nearly 1,100 women were killed because they “dishonored their family.” According to a report by Pakistan’s independent Human Rights Commission, reasons for these deaths range from domestic disputes and alleged forbidden relations, to the simple fact that a woman chose who she wanted to marry or not. Although predominantly aimed at women, last year 88 men also fell victim to these vicious practices. Worst of all, there has been an alarming rise in these killings. There were 1,105 cases in 2014 and 869 in 2013.

Image: Tela Chhe

In the face of these horrific murders, religious and political leaders have started cautioning against the practice of honor killings, but to little avail. 40 religious leaders from the Sunni Ittihad Council, the largest political and religious coalition in Pakistan, issued a fatwa (an Islamic ruling) condemning honor killings, calling the practice "un-Islamic" and the murders "unpardonable sins." The fatwa also calls on the political establishment in Pakistan to take up the responsibility of an Islamic government to protect women and girls.

Even controversial groups such as the Council of Islamic Ideology (which had previously suggested husbands should be allowed to lightly beat their wives) restated its position on the matter, saying that it had declared such killings to be un-Islamic in 1999. The CII, a constitutional body that advises the legislature whether or not a certain law is in line with Islam, in its statement asserted that no new legislation is required because anyone guilty of such killings could be tried under a range of laws that already exist to cover different categories of murder – laws that they say conform to Islamic teachings.

In a possible silver lining, the country's largest province, Punjab, passed a landmark law in February criminalizing all forms of violence against women. But certain religious groups have branded the measure a promotion of obscenity, claiming that it will increase the divorce rate and destroy the country's traditional family system.

Speaking of family, there are laws that allow for the family of a murder victim to “forgive” the perpetrator. That isn’t very promising if those who commit the murders are from the same family.

There is another law currently pending in the Pakistani parliament specifically addressing honor killings. But action on passing it has been moving slowly. There is still a lack of consensus over key parts of the bill. You can lend your voice in calling for the Pakistani Parliament to do away with honor killings for good by participating in the Tweet action.

In a world already beset with so many other problems, choosing whom you want to marry and not getting killed for it shouldn't be one of them.


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