In a shocking case of honor killing, an 18-year-old girl was sentenced to death by a village jirga and executed by her own family in Kohistan, Pakistan, after she was seen dancing with boys in a social media video.
The girl was killed on Sunday in the Barsharyal village of Kohistan’s Palas, 150km northwest of Mansehra on the order of the council of elders, known as a jirga. The video, which was reportedly filmed at a wedding celebration in the remote and strictly conservative Kohistan region, featured a boy dancing while four girls clapped and sang along. It is claimed that, when the footage became public, a tribal jirga was held shortly afterwards where it was decided that the participants as well as the boy who filmed the video should be killed, as intertribal mingling is widely considered to be forbidden.
This is not the first time that such a brutal incident has taken place in Kohistan. In 2012, a similar case of honor killing made headlines when a group of three boys and five girls were killed by members of their tribe after a mobile phone video of them dancing at a wedding in a remote village in Kohistan emerged on social media. The case was brought to national attention by Afzal Kohistani, the elder brother of the boys connected to the video, who alleged that the girls had been killed on the orders of the Azadkhel tribe jirga. He campaigned for over seven years to keep the case in the public eye until he was murdered in March 2019. In September 2019, three men were convicted of murdering three of the girls from the video and were sentenced to life imprisonment. The status of the fourth and fifth girl remains unconfirmed.
These cases highlight the menace of the jirga system and the draconian rules prevailing in Pakistan, where cultural traditions are enforced by tribal jirgas in the absence of a capable law enforcement system.
The Pakistani government has enacted laws to curb the practice of honor killing, such as the Criminal Law (Amendment) (Offences in the name or pretext of Honour) Act, 2016, which mandates life imprisonment for honor killers and removes the option of pardon by the victim’s family.
However, the implementation of these laws remains weak and ineffective, especially in the remote and tribal areas where the jirga system is dominant and influential. The government needs to take urgent steps to ensure the protection of women and girls from honor violence, and to hold the perpetrators and the jirga members accountable for their crimes.
The government also needs to raise awareness and educate the people about the rights of women and the evils of honor killing, and to challenge the patriarchal and feudal mindset that fuels such practices. Only then can the cycle of violence and injustice be broken, and the lives and dignity of women and girls be safeguarded.