Rights Group: 461 Pakistani Women Killed This Year in 'Honor Killings'

Pakistan's main human rights body said Wednesday that at least 461 women have been killed by family members in so-called "honor killings" this year, an increase from the year before.

In such killings, women are murdered to protect the "family honor" for immoral behavior ranging from sex outside marriage, dating, talking to men, being raped or even cooking poorly.

The 2002 figure is up from about 372 honor killings the year before and demonstrates the need for increased protection for women in Pakistan, the private Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said.

The group said it also shows an apparent lack of commitment to fight the practice by Pakistan's military government, which had made repeated promises to improve women's right in this poor country of 145 million people.

"Crimes against women continued to rise this year, and at least 461 women were killed alone in the two provinces of Pakistan in the name of honor," Kamla Hayat, a senior official with the rights commission, told The Associated Press.

Hayat said the number of honor killings could be much higher, and that her group is still in the process of compiling a report on crimes against women. Such killings also occur in some other Muslim countries.

Hayat, however, said the increase in recorded honor killings might also be the results of an increased willingness by family and friends to report the crime as opposition to the practice grows in some areas.

"We are mainly relying on the data collected from the two provinces— Punjab and Sindh," Hayat said. The 2001 figures are based on reports from the same two provinces.

She said the commission doesn't have enough resources to operate in Baluchistan and the North Western Frontier — deeply conservative provinces that share a border with Afghanistan, where former Taliban regime had introduced a harsher version of Islam.

The fact that those conservative regions are not included in the report suggest the number of actual killings is higher.

According to the commission's figures, out of 161 slain women in Punjab state, 67 were killed by their brothers, 49 by their husbands and rest of their were executed by other family members.

In seven cases, sons killed their mothers.

In June, a woman in Punjab was gang-raped on the order of a tribal council as punishment for her teenage brother having sex with a woman from another clan. In that case, six men were convicted of attacking her and sentenced to hang. But in most honor killings, the victims are rarely punished.

"Unfortunately, police in Pakistan either don't arrest such killers or they are not treated as murderers," Hayat said. For example, of Punjab's 161 cases, only 27 killers were arrested. No figures were available on convictions.

But officials said the government has been closely monitoring such crimes against women and move swiftly whenever they are reported.

"The government has recently made some changes in the laws to give more protection to the women, and it will be unfair to say that the government is quiet on the subject," said Brig. Javed Iqbal Cheema, Director General at Pakistan's Interior Ministry.

However, the situation may not improve soon. Pakistani religious parties who made a strong showing in the Oct. 10 parliamentary elections are also in favor of giving only "limited" independence to the women, who make up half of Pakistan's population of 140 million.