Skip to content

Nothing Honorable About Honour Killing Essay Definition

Every once in awhile the media erupts in outrage over the honor killing of a girl or woman — usually in South Asia. These stories, intermittently covered by international media outlets, are actually part of larger, global issue: honor based violence.

However, these acts of violence that we have come to call honor violence and honor killings, have no honor in them. There simply is no honorable basis for violence of any kind, but in particular, there is no basis for the kind of systemic violence against women that occurs in the name of honor.

What is honor-based violence?

Honor-based violence is violence, plain and simple.

But it is violence perpetrated with the goal of restoring or protecting the honor of oneself, family, or community. Due to social norms that devalue women as individuals and human beings, honor violence is mostly — though not exclusively — committed against women and girls. It is committed as a punishment and redemption for the perceived shame or disgrace a woman has brought upon her family and/or community.

The victim’s family members, who believe they have been disgraced, are generally the perpetrators of honor violence, so it is sometimes compared to domestic violence. However, acts of domestic violence do not typically have the same shame or honor motivation and are usually committed by an individual. Honor violence, on the other hand, may be committed by several people or result from a collective effort, and aims to secure familial control over a girl or woman’s behavior.

Acts of honor-based violence include female genital mutilation, acid attacks , forced marriage, as well as many other forms of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse.

Read more: 12 Myths About Female Genital Mutilation Debunked

But the most extreme form of honor violence is honor killing — the murder of girls and women by their own mothers, fathers, and brothers. Both immediate and extended family members, seeking to reclaim their honor, are frequently involved in the killings. Honor killings may also be ordered by community leaders or tribal councils, a pressing problem in Pakistan.

What could be shameful enough to warrant a death sentence?

Nothing. There is nothing a person can do that justifies honor violence. Yet girls and women are branded a disgrace and subsequently punished for so many reasons.

A young Pakistani woman refused to marry the man her family chose for her, a man who was also her cousin. Instead, she eloped with a man she chose for herself. She was three months pregnant when a group of 20 people beat her to death with bricks — the mob included her father, brothers, and the cousin she jilted.

An Iraqi immigrant held a knife to his daughter’s throat while her mother and sister tied her down and beat her — because she spoke to a man. This was their way of preserving her virginity for her arranged marriage.

A father in Arizona ran his own daughter over with a Jeep for being “too Westernized” because “she liked make up ... hoped to be able to support herself” and rejected an arranged marriage to a man in need of a green card.

A tribal council ordered the murder of a Pakistani 15 year-old-girl because she helped her neighbor elope — she was drugged, strangled, and then burned to death.

Another 15-year-old girl died from severe burns on her face and chest after her own parents attacked her with acid. She had engaged in “illicit relations” with a boy and “wasn't coming to her senses so [her] parents threw acid on her to save their honor,” CNN was told.

These are only a handful of examples of murder and violence for so-called honor. Deviating from cultural or traditional norms and expectations — including choice of clothing, education, and employment — can incite honor-based violence. Expressing sexuality, having contact or engaging in sexual activity with the opposite sex (including rape), choosing one’s own spouse, rejecting an arranged marriage, fleeing a forced marriage, wanting to leave a marriage — all allegedly bring shame and dishonor to one’s family.

Men are also victims of honor killings. When a man elopes with a woman, marries her against her family’s will, or marries a woman who has rejected an arranged marriage, he may be considered complicit in dishonoring her family. Gay men have also been murdered for bringing shame to their family through their sexuality.

But not one of these actions justifies the use of violence.

Read more: The dangers of falling in love with the ‘wrong’ person

Where is this happening?

Though media attention often focuses on honor killings in the Middle East, South Asia, and Muslim-majority countries, violence of this nature is certainly not limited to those regions. Honor killings have been reported not only in the UK and the US, but also in Sweden, Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, and Uganda.

It’s estimated that 5,000 women are murdered globally each year in the name of honor. In India, approximately 1,000 women are victims of honor killings every year. In Pakistan, which bears the brunt of international criticism, that figure is closer to 1,100 — the victims were commonly shot or attacked with acid.

Read more: From Acid Attack to Fashion Week: How One Victim is Fighting Back

Between 2010 and 2014, over 11,000 incidences of honor based violence, which includes cases of female genital mutilation and forced marriage, were committed in the UK; instances of honor violence are also rising in the US.

Read more: Child Marriage: Everything You Need to Know

As our world becomes increasingly globalized and people migrate, they also assimilate. The adoption of values outside of traditional cultural values by their can be difficult for older generations to accept and is sometimes deemed shameful. This is not a problem that’s going away anytime soon and is becoming an increasingly global issue — unless we challenge the social norms that support these practices and tackle the roots of this problem.

Why is it so hard to stop?

There are a few ways in which the root causes of honor killings and violence are fundamentally misunderstood. So here is the truth:

1. It is not about religion, it’s about culture.

International coverage of honor killings and violence tends to focus on incidents in countries like Pakistan, India, and Muslim communities, so it is easy to misattribute this kind of violence to religious beliefs. However, no major religion advocates committing murder to reclaim honor and revered religious leaders regularly condemn the practice as a “repulsive act, condemned and prohibited by religion.”

The concept of “honor” in this context is closely tied to virginity, fidelity, and modesty — which are considered virtues in some religions. But “honor”-based violence has no basis in religion. It is a cultural practice based on people’s interpretation of those virtues and how to enforce them; in some cultures, it is also legitimized by tribal justice systems.

“Honor”-based violence is driven by cultural norms that consider girls and women to be the property of men. It is perpetuated by the idea that a woman’s body is a vessel of her family’s honor, rather than her own to do with as she chooses, and a systemic view of girls and women as inferior to boys and men.

These murders are motivated by the belief that a girl is merely a symbol of her family’s honor and that symbol can be tarnished. “Girls are born only to stay at home and to bring honor to the family by following family traditions,” said the brother (and proud killer) of social-media star and victim Qandeel Baloch. And in this view, girls and women are expendable when that honor is tarnished and the symbol is tainted.

Read more: Pakistani Social Media Star Murdered in 'Honor Killing'

But a human being, a life, is much more than a symbol.

2. We can’t accurately gauge the size of the problem.

Most of the figures on honor-based violence and killings are gross underestimations. Since not all countries and justice systems distinguish between honor-motivated crimes and domestic violence or homicides committed for other reasons, it is difficult to obtain an accurate count of honor based violence and honor killings. Additionally, there are not always reporting mechanisms in place and even countries that have laws criminalizing honor-based violence and killings have loopholes that allow these crimes to go unreported and unpunished.

Though honor killings are illegal in Pakistan, the law is poorly enforced and it still has one of the highest incidences of these murders. Because honor killings are often carried out by family members, there may not be outside witnesses to the crime, meaning that it is up to the perpetrators to turn themselves in. They are then more likely to pass the murder off as suicide or death by natural causes.

A lack of accurate data on how many incidents have occurred and where they have occurred poses a challenge to addressing the problem.

3. The problem can’t be solved by creating laws alone, we have to challenge social norms.

When Turkey cracked down on honor violence by imposing life sentences for honor killings, cases of “honor suicide” began to rise. The families of “dishonorable” girls merely saw the law as forcing them to choose “between sacrificing a son to a life in prison by designating him to kill his sister or forcing their daughters to kill themselves,” the New York Times was told.

Under current Pakistani law, the victim’s family can forgive her murderer — and are often forced to do so by other family members or are willing to do so as the perpetrator is likely a family member as well.

Read more: Pakistani Government Bans Killer of Social Media Star from Being Pardoned

While creating new laws to address honor-based violence is crucial, the ideology of this honor is deeply entrenched in culture. Pakistani policemen and investigative authorities from the same culture may not necessarily motivated to enforce the law because they accept these social norms.

In countries where honor culture is not prevalent, law enforcement authorities may not understand the nature of the problem and incorrectly handle cases. In many instances, if a girl or woman seeks help because she fears for her life, she may find safety with her family; this is particularly true for children. But the perpetrators of honor-based violence are generally family members, so sending a girl or a woman back to her family might essentially be issuing a death sentence.

In order to stop this practice there need to be strict laws prohibiting honor based violence, but there also needs to be a change in the social norms that support the violence and an awareness of how to appropriately deal with victims.

4. We are lending it validity by using the word honor

No act of violence can or will restore honor to a human being — so we need to stop validating these actions by inserting honor into the terminology. To use the word honor in reference to these murders is to adopt the perspective of the attackers rather than the attacked. Honor violence is used as a means of forcing girls and women into obedience, a way to control their lives and their bodies — but there is no honor in stripping someone of their freedom or taking a life.

Following the death of a 15-year-old girl, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan has said that honor killing “is not only un-Islamic but also inhuman ... It is not honor killing, it's just plain murder.”

Read more: Stand with Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and tell world leaders: There is no honor in honor killings.

“I do not even wish to use the phrase ‘honour killing’: there is not the faintest vestige of honour in killing a woman in this way,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has said.

Though it is critical to recognize that the motivation behind these murders may differ from others in order to stop this practice from continuing, it is equally important to recognize that honor-based violence is still just violence.

Let’s stand up for girls and women because there is no honor in honor killings.

TopicsIndiaPakistanFGMGirls & WomenHonor Killings#LevelTheLawAcid AttacksHonor Based Violence

For the 2014 film, see Honour Killing (film).

An honor killing or shame killing[1] is the homicide of a member of a family, due to the perpetrators' belief that the victim has brought shame or dishonor upon the family, or has violated the principles of a community or a religion, usually for reasons such as refusing to enter an arranged marriage, being in a relationship that is disapproved by their family, having sex outside marriage, becoming the victim of rape, dressing in ways which are deemed inappropriate, engaging in non-heterosexual relations or renouncing a faith.[2][3][4][5][6]


Human Rights Watch defines "honor killings" as follows:

Honor killings are acts of vengeance, usually death, committed by male family members against female family members, who are held to have brought dishonor upon the family. A woman can be targeted by (individuals within) her family for a variety of reasons, including: refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, being the victim of a sexual assault, seeking a divorce—even from an abusive husband—or (allegedly) committing adultery. The mere perception that a woman has behaved in a way that "dishonors" her family is sufficient to trigger an attack on her life.[7]

Although rare, men can also be the victims of honor killings by members of the family of a woman with whom they are perceived to have an inappropriate relationship.[8] The loose term "honor killing" applies to killing of both men and women in cultures that practice it.[9]

Some women who bridge social divides, publicly engage other communities, or adopt some of the customs or the religion of an outside group may be attacked. In countries that receive immigrants, some otherwise low-status and generally Islamic immigrant men and boys have asserted their dominant patriarchal status by inflicting honor killings on female family members who have participated in public life, for example, in feminist and integration politics.[10]

General characteristics[edit]

The distinctive nature of honor killings is the collective nature of the crime – many members of an extended family plan the act together, sometimes through a formal "family council". Another significant feature is the connection of honor killings to the control of individual's behavior, in particular in regard to sexuality/marriage, by the family as a collective. Another key aspect is the importance of the reputation of the family in the community, and the stigma associated with losing social status, particularly in tight-knit communities.[11] Another characteristic of honor killings is that the perpetrators often do not face negative stigma within their communities, because their behavior is seen as justified.[12]


The incidence of honor killings is very difficult to determine and estimates vary widely. In most countries data on honor killings is not collected systematically, and many of these killings are reported by the families as suicides or accidents and registered as such.[13][14][15] Although honor killings are often associated with the Asian continent, especially the Middle East and South Asia, they occur all over the world.[16][17] In 2000, the United Nations estimated that 5,000 women were victims of honor killings each year.[18] According to BBC, "Women's advocacy groups, however, suspect that more than 20,000 women are killed worldwide each year."[19] Murder is not the only form of honor crime, other crimes such as acid attacks, abduction, mutilations, beatings occur; in 2010 the UK police recorded at least 2,823 such crimes.[20]


Methods of killing include stoning, stabbing, beating, burning, beheading, hanging, throat slashing, lethal acid attacks, shooting and strangulation.[21] The murders are sometimes performed in public to warn the other individuals within the community of possible consequences of engaging in what is seen as illicit behavior.[21]

Use of minors as perpetrators[edit]

Often, minor girls and boys are selected by the family to act as the killers, so that the killer may benefit from the most favorable legal outcome. Boys and sometimes women in the family are often asked to closely control and monitor the behavior of their sisters or other females in the family, to ensure that the females do not do anything to tarnish the 'honor' and 'reputation' of the family. The boys are often asked to carry out the murder, and if they refuse, they may face serious repercussions from the family and community for failing to perform their "duty".[21][22]


General cultural features[edit]

Further information: Namus

The cultural features which lead to honor killings are complex. Honor killings involve violence and fear as a tool of maintaining control. Honor killings are argued to have their origins among nomadic peoples and herdsmen: such populations carry all their valuables with them and risk having them stolen, and they do not have proper recourse to law. As a result, inspiring fear, using aggression, and cultivating a reputation for violent revenge in order to protect property is preferable to other behaviors. In societies where there is a weak rule of law, people must build fierce reputations.[23]

In many cultures where honor is of central value, men are sources, or active generators/agents of that honor, while the only effect that women can have on honor is to destroy it.[23] Once the family's or clan's honor is considered to have been destroyed by a woman, there is a need for immediate revenge to restore it, in order for the family to avoid losing face in the community. As Amnesty International statement notes:

The regime of honour is unforgiving: women on whom suspicion has fallen are not given an opportunity to defend themselves, and family members have no socially acceptable alternative but to remove the stain on their honour by attacking the woman.[24]

The relation between social views on female sexuality and honor killings is complex. The way through which women in honor-based societies are considered to bring dishonor to men is often through their sexual behavior. Indeed, violence related to female sexual expression has been documented since Ancient Rome, when the pater familias had the right to kill an unmarried sexually active daughter or an adulterous wife. In medieval Europe, early Jewish law mandated stoning for an adulterous wife and her partner.[23]Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban, an anthropology professor at Rhode Island College, writes that an act, or even alleged act, of any female sexual misconduct, upsets the moral order of the culture, and bloodshed is the only way to remove any shame brought by the actions and restore social equilibrium.[25] However, the relation between honor and female sexuality is a complicated one, and some authors argue that it is not women's sexuality per se that is the 'problem', but rather women's self-determination in regard to it, as well as fertility. Sharif Kanaana, professor of anthropology at Birzeit University, says that honor killing is:

A complicated issue that cuts deep into the history of Islamic society. .. What the men of the family, clan, or tribe seek control of in a patrilineal society is reproductive power. Women for the tribe were considered a factory for making men. The honour killing is not a means to control sexual power or behavior. What's behind it is the issue of fertility, or reproductive power.[26]

In some cultures, honor killings are considered less serious than other murders simply because they arise from long-standing cultural traditions and are thus deemed appropriate or justifiable.[25] Additionally, according to a poll done by the BBC’s Asian network, 1 in 10 of the 500 young south Asians surveyed said they would condone any murder of someone who threatened their family’s honor.[27]

Nighat Taufeeq of the women's resource center Shirkatgah in Lahore, Pakistan says: "It is an unholy alliance that works against women: the killers take pride in what they have done, the tribal leaders condone the act and protect the killers and the police connive the cover-up."[28] The lawyer and human rights activistHina Jilani says, "The right to life of women in Pakistan is conditional on their obeying social norms and traditions."[29]

A July 2008 Turkish study by a team from Dicle University on honor killings in the Southeastern Anatolia Region, the predominantly Kurdish area of Turkey, has so far shown that little if any social stigma is attached to honor killing. It also comments that the practice is not related to a feudal societal structure, "there are also perpetrators who are well-educated university graduates. Of all those surveyed, 60 percent are either high school or university graduates or at the very least, literate."[30][31]

In contemporary times, the changing cultural and economic status of women has also been used to explain the occurrences of honor killings. Women in largely patriarchal cultures who have gained economic independence from their families go against their male-dominated culture. Some researchers argue that the shift towards greater responsibility for women and less for their fathers may cause their male family members to act in oppressive and sometimes violent manners in order to regain authority.[32]

This change of culture can also be seen to have an effect in Western cultures such as Britain among South Asian and Middle-Eastern communities where honor killings often arise from women seeking greater independence and adopting seemingly Western values. For women who trace their ancestry back to the Middle East or South Asia, wearing clothes that are considered Western, having a boyfriend, or refusing to accept an arranged marriage are all offenses that can and have led to an honor killing.[33]

Fareena Alam, editor of a Muslim magazine, writes that honor killings which arise in Western cultures such as Britain are a tactic for immigrant families to cope with the alienating consequences of urbanization. Alam argues that immigrants remain close to the home culture and their relatives because it provides a safety net. She writes that,

“In villages "back home", a man's sphere of control was broader, with a large support system. In our cities full of strangers, there is virtually no control over who one's family members sit, talk or work with.”

Alam argues that it is thus the attempt to regain control and the feelings of alienation that ultimately leads to an honor killing.[34]

Specific triggers of honor killings[edit]

Refusal of an arranged marriage[edit]

Main article: Forced marriage

Refusal of an arranged marriage is often a cause of an honor killing. The family which has prearranged the marriage risks disgrace if the marriage does not proceed.[35][36][37] and the latter is indulged in a relationship with other individual without prior knowledge of the family members.

Seeking a divorce[edit]

A woman attempting to obtain a divorce or separation without the consent of the husband/extended family can also be a trigger for honor killings. In cultures where marriages are arranged and goods are often exchanged between families, a woman's desire to seek a divorce is often viewed as an insult to the men who negotiated the deal.[38] By making their marital problems known outside the family, the women are seen as exposing the family to public dishonor.[11]

Allegations and rumors about a family member[edit]

In certain cultures, an allegation against a woman can be enough to tarnish her family's reputation, and to trigger an honor killing: the family's fear of being ostracized by the community is enormous.[39][40][41]

Victims of rape[edit]

Main article: Victim blaming

In many cultures, victims of rape face severe violence, including honor killings, from their families and relatives. In many parts of the world, women who have been raped are considered to have brought 'dishonor' or 'disgrace' to their families.[42] This is especially the case if the victim becomes pregnant.[43]

Central to the code of honor, in many societies, is a woman's virginity, which must be preserved until marriage.[44] Suzanne Ruggi writes, "A woman's virginity is the property of the men around her, first her father, later a gift for her husband; a virtual dowry as she graduates to marriage."[45]


Further information: Violence against LGBT people

There is evidence that homosexuality can also be perceived as grounds for honor killing by relatives. It is not only same-sex sexual acts that trigger violence – behaviors that are regarded as inappropriate gender expression (e.g. a male acting or dressing in a "feminine way") can also raise suspicion and lead to honor violence.[22]

In one case, a gay Jordanian man was shot and wounded by his brother.[46] In another case, in 2008, a homosexual Turkish-Kurdish student, Ahmet Yildiz, was shot outside a cafe and later died in the hospital. Sociologists have called this Turkey's first publicized gay honor killing.[47][48][49][50][51] In 2012, a 17-year-old gay youth was murdered by his father in Turkey in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır.[52][53]

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees state that "claims made by LGBT persons often reveal exposure to physical and sexual violence, extended periods of detention, medical abuse, threat of execution and honour killing."[54]


There are multiple causes for which honor killings occur, and numerous factors interact with each other.

Views on women[edit]

Honor killings are often a result of strongly patriarchal views on women, and the position of women in society. In these traditionally male-dominated societies women are dependent first on their father and then on their husband, whom they are expected to obey. Women are viewed as property and not as individuals with their own agency. As such, they must submit to male authority figures in the family – failure to do so can result in extreme violence as punishment. Violence is seen as a way of ensuring compliance and preventing rebellion.[55][56] According to Shahid Khan, a professor at the Aga Khan University in Pakistan: "Women are considered the property of the males in their family irrespective of their class, ethnic, or religious group. The owner of the property has the right to decide its fate. The concept of ownership has turned women into a commodity which can be exchanged, bought and sold".[57] In such cultures, women are not allowed to take control over their bodies and sexuality: these are the property of the males of the family, the father (and other male relatives) who must ensure virginity until marriage; and then the husband to whom his wife's sexuality is subordinated – a woman must not undermine the ownership rights of her guardian by engaging in premarital sex or adultery.[22]

Cultures of honor and shame[edit]

The concept of family honor is extremely important in many Muslim communities. The most frequently quoted figure published by the United Nations in 2000 is an estimate of 5,000 killings worldwide each year, most of them in Islamic regions of South Asia, North Africa and the Middle East.[58] The family is viewed as the main source of honor and the community highly values the relationship between honor and the family. Acts by family members which may be considered inappropriate are seen as bringing shame to the family in the eyes of the community. Such acts often include female behaviors that are related to sex outside marriage or way of dressing, but may also include male homosexuality (like the emo killings in Iraq). The family loses face in the community, and may be shunned by relatives. The only way the shame can be erased is through a killing.[55][56] The cultures in which honor killings take place are usually considered "collectivist cultures", where the family is more important than the individual, and individualistic autonomy is seen as a threat to the collective family and its honor.[59]


Legal frameworks can encourage honor killings. Such laws include on one side leniency towards such killings, and on the other side criminalization of various behaviors, such as extramarital sex, 'indecent' dressing in public places, or homosexual sexual acts, with these laws acting as a way of reassuring perpetrators of honor killings that people engaging in these behaviors deserve punishment.[60][61]

In the Roman Empire the Roman law Lex Julia de adulteriis coercendis implemented by Augustus Caesar permitted the murder of daughters and their lovers who committed adultery at the hands of their fathers and also permitted the murder of the adulterous wife's lover at the hand of her husband.[62]

The Napoleonic Code did not allow women to murder unfaithful husbands, while it permitted the murder of unfaithful women by their husbands.[63] The Napoleonic Code Article 324 which was passed in 1810 permitted the murders of an unfaithful wife and her lover at the hand of her husband.[64] It was abolished only in 1975. On 7 November 1975, Law no. 617/75 Article 17 repealed the 1810 French Penal Code Article 324. The 1810 penal code Article 324 passed by Napoleon was copied by Middle Eastern Arab countries. It inspired Jordan's Article 340 which permits murder of a wife and her lover if caught in the act at the hands of her husband. France's 1810 Penal Code Article 324 also inspired the 1858 Ottoman Penal Code's Article 188, both the French Article 324 and Ottoman article 188 were drawn on to create Jordan's Article 340 which was retained even after a 1944 revision of Jordan's laws which did not touch public conduct and family law so Article 324 still applies to this day.[65][66][67] France's Mandate over Lebanon resulted in its penal code being imposed there in 1943–1944, with the French inspired Lebanese law for adultery allowing the mere accusation of adultery against women resulting in a maximum punishment of two years in prison while men have to be caught in the act and not merely accused, and are punished with only one year in prison.

France's Article 324 inspired laws in other Arab countries such as:

  • Algeria's 1991 Penal Code Article 279
  • Egypt's 1937 Penal Code no. 58 Article 237
  • Iraq's 1966 Penal Code Article 409
  • Jordan's 1960 Penal Code no. 16 Article 340
  • Kuwait's Penal Code Article 153
  • Lebanon's Penal Code Articles 193, 252, 253 and 562
    • These were amended in 1983, 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1999 and were eventually repealed by the Lebanese Parliament on 4 August 2011
  • Libya's Penal Code Article 375
  • Morocco's 1963 amended Penal Code Article 418
  • Oman's Penal Code Article 252
  • Palestine, which had two codes
  • Jordan's 1960 Penal Code 1960 in the West Bank and British Mandate Criminal Code Article 18 in the Gaza Strip
    • These were respectively repealed by Article 1 and Article 2 and both by Article 3 of the 2011 Law no. 71 which was signed on 5 May 2011 by president Mahmoud Abbas into the 10 October 2011 Official Gazette no. 91 applying in the Criminal Code of Palestine's Northern Governorates and Southern Governorates
  • Syria's 1953 amended 1949 Penal Code Article 548
  • Tunisia's 1991 Penal Code Article 207 (which was repealed)
  • United Arab Emirate's law no.3/1978 Article 334
  • Yemen's law no. 12/1994 Article 232

Forced suicide as a substitute[edit]

Main article: Forced suicide

A forced suicide may be a substitute for an honor killing. In this case, the family members do not directly kill the victim themselves, but force him or her to commit suicide, in order to avoid punishment. Such suicides are reported to be common in southeastern Turkey.[13][68] It was reported that in 2001, 565 women lost their lives in honor-related crimes in Ilam, Iran, of which 375 were reportedly staged as self-immolation.[69] In 2008, self-immolation, "occurred in all the areas of Kurdish settlement (in Iran), where it was more common than in other parts of Iran".[69] It is claimed that in Iraqi Kurdistan, many deaths are reported as "female suicides" in order to conceal honor-related crimes.[70]

Restoring honor through a forced marriage[edit]

Main article: Forced marriage

In the case of an unmarried woman or girl associating herself with a man, losing virginity, or being raped, the family may attempt to restore its 'honor' with a 'shotgun wedding'. The groom will usually be the man who has 'dishonored' the woman or girl, but if this is not possible the family may try to arrange a marriage with another man, often a man who is part of the extended family of the one who has committed the acts with the woman or girl. This being an alternative to an honor killing, the woman or girl has no choice but to accept the marriage. The family of the man is expected to cooperate and provide a groom for the woman.[23][71][72]


Widney Brown, the advocacy director of Human Rights Watch, said that the practice "goes across cultures and across religions".[73]

Resolution 1327 (2003) of the Council of Europe states that:[74]

"The Assembly notes that whilst so-called 'honour crimes' emanate from cultural and not religious roots and are perpetrated worldwide (mainly in patriarchal societies or communities), the majority of reported cases in Europe have been amongst Muslim or migrant Muslim communities (although Islam itself does not support the death penalty for honour-related misconduct)."

Many Muslim commentators, and organizations condemn honor killings as an un-Islamic cultural practice.[75] Tahira Shaid Khan, a professor of women's issues at Aga Khan University, says that there is nothing in the Qur'an that permits or sanctions honor killings.[76] Khan instead blames them on attitudes (across different classes, ethnic, and religious groups) that view women as property with no rights of their own as the motivation for honor killings.[76]Salafi scholar Muhammad Al-Munajjid asserts that the punishment of any crime is only reserved for the Islamic ruler.[77]Ali Gomaa, Egypt's ex-Grand Mufti, has also spoken out forcefully against honor killings.[75]

As a more generic statement reflecting the wider Islamic scholarly trend, Jonathan A.C. Brown says that "questions about honor killings have regularly found their way into the inboxes of muftis like Yusuf Qaradawi or the late Lebanese Shiite scholar Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah. Their responses reflect a rare consensus. No Muslim scholar of any note, either medieval or modern, has sanctioned a man killing his wife or sister for tarnishing her or the family's honor. If a woman or man found together were to deserve the death penalty for fornication, this would have to be established by the evidence required by the Qur'an: either a confession or the testimony of four male witnesses, all upstanding in the eyes of the court, who actually saw penetration occur."[78]

In history[edit]

Matthew A. Goldstein, J.D. (Arizona), has noted that honor killings were encouraged in ancient Rome, where male family members who did not take action against the female adulterers in their families were "actively persecuted".[79]

The origin of honor killings and the control of women is evidenced throughout history in the cultures and traditions of many regions. The Roman law of pater familias gave complete control to the men of the family over both their children and wives. Under these laws, the lives of children and wives were at the discretion of the men in their families. Ancient Roman Law also justified honor killings by stating that women who were found guilty of adultery could be killed by their husbands. During the Qing dynasty in China, fathers and husbands had the right to kill daughters who were deemed to have dishonored the family.[80]

Among the AmerindianAztecs and Incas, adultery was punishable by death.[79] During John Calvin’s rule of Geneva, women found guilty of adultery were punished by being drowned in the Rhone river.[80]

Honor killings have a long tradition in Mediterranean Europe.[80][81][82] According to the Honour Related Violence – European Resource Book and Good Practice (page 234): "Honor in the Mediterranean world is a code of conduct, a way of life and an ideal of the social order, which defines the lives, the customs and the values of many of the peoples in the Mediterranean moral".[83]

By region[edit]

According to the UN in 2002:

The report of the Special Rapporteur... concerning cultural practices in the family that are violent towards women (E/CN.4/2002/83), indicated that honour killings had been reported in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon (the Lebanese Parliament abolished the Honor killing in August 2011), Morocco, Pakistan, the Syrian Arab Republic, Turkey, Yemen, and other Mediterranean and Persian Gulf countries, and that they had also taken place in western countries such as France, Germany and the United Kingdom, within migrant communities.[84][85]

In addition, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights gathered reports from several countries and considering only the countries that submitted reports it was shown that honor killings have occurred in Bangladesh, Great Britain, Brazil, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Pakistan, Morocco, Sweden, Turkey, and Uganda.[86][87]

According to Widney Brown, advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, the practice of honor killing "goes across cultures and across religions."[88]


The issue of honor killings has risen to prominence in Europe in recent years, prompting the need to address the occurrence of honor killings. The 2009 European Parliamentary Assembly noted this in their Resolution 1681 which noted the dire need to address honor crimes. The resolution stated that:

"On so-called 'honor crimes,' the Parliamentary Assembly notes that the problem, far from diminishing, has worsened, including in Europe. It mainly affects women, who are its most frequent victims, both in Europe and the rest of the world, especially in patriarchal and fundamentalist communities and societies. For this reason, it asked the Council of Europe member states to 'draw up and put into effect national action plans to combat violence against women, including violence committed in the name of so-called 'honor,' if they have not already done so."[89]

The Honour Based Violence Awareness Network (HBVA) writes:[90]

"Certain Eastern European countries have recorded cases of HBV [honor based violence] within the indigenous populations, such as Albania and Chechnya, and there have been acts of ‘honour’ killings within living memory within Mediterranean countries such as Italy and Greece".

The majority of honor killings are committed by first generation immigrants against second and third generation to prevent them from becoming Westernized.[91]


Main article: Gjakmarrja

Honor based violence has a long tradition in Albania, and although it is much rarer today than it was in the past, it still exists.[92] The Kanun is a set of traditional Albanian laws and customs. Honor (in Albanian: Nderi) is one of the four pillars on which the Kanun is based. Honor crimes happen especially in northern Albania. In Albania (and in other parts of the Balkans) the phenomenon of blood feuds between males was more common historically than honor killings of females; but honor based violence against women and girls also has a tradition.[55][93]


Further information: Honor killing of Sadia Sheikh

In 2011, Belgium held its first honor killing trial, in which four Pakistani family members were found guilty of killing their daughter and sibling, Sadia Sheikh.[94]

As a legacy of the very influential Napoleonic Code, before 1997, Belgian law provided for mitigating circumstances in the case of a killing or an assault against a spouse caught in the act of adultery.[95][96] (Adultery itself was decriminalized in Belgium in 1987.)[97]


Main article: Honor killing of Ghazala Khan

Ghazala Khan was shot and killed in Denmark in September 2005, by her brother, after she had married against the will of the family. She was of Pakistani origin. Her murder was ordered by her father to save her family's 'honor' and several relatives were involved. Sentences considered harsh by Danish standards were handed out to all nine accused members of her family.[98]


France has a large immigrant community from North Africa (especially from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia) and honor based violence occurs in this community.[99] A 2009 report by the Council of Europe cited the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, France, and Norway as countries where honor crimes and honor killings occur.[100]

France traditionally provided for leniency with regard to honor crimes, particularly when they were committed against women who had committed adultery. The Napoleonic Code of 1804, established under Napoleon Bonaparte, is one of the origins of the legal leniency with regard to adultery-related killings in a variety of legal systems in several countries around the world. Under this code, a man who killed his wife after she had been caught in the act of adultery could not be charged with premeditated murder – although he could be charged with other lesser offenses. This defense was available only for a husband, not for a wife. The Napoleonic Code has been very influential, and many countries, inspired by it, provided for lesser penalties or even acquittal for such crimes. This can be seen in the criminal codes of many former French colonies.[101][102]


In 2005 Der Spiegel reported: "In the past four months, six Muslim women living in Berlin have been killed by family members". The article went on to cover the case of Hatun Sürücü, a Turkish-Kurdish woman who was killed by her brother for not staying with the husband she was forced to marry, and for "living like a German". Precise statistics on how many women die every year in such honor killings are hard to come by, as many crimes are never reported, said Myria Boehmecke of the Tuebingen-based women's group Terre des Femmes. The group tries to protect Muslim girls and women from oppressive families. The Turkish women's organization Papatya has documented 40 instances of honor killings in Germany since 1996.[103][104] Hatun Sürücü's brother was convicted of murder and jailed for nine years and three months by a German court in 2006.[105] In March 2009, a Kurdish immigrant from Turkey, Gülsüm S., was killed for a relationship not in keeping with her religious family's plan for an arranged marriage.[106] In 2016 a Kurdish Yazidi woman was shot dead at her wedding in Hannover for allegedly refusing to marry her cousin in a forced marriage.[107]


Similar to other Southern/Mediterranean European areas, "honor" was traditionally important in Italy. Indeed, until 1981, the Criminal Code provided for mitigating circumstances for such killings; until 1981 the law read: Art. 587: He who causes the death of a spouse, daughter, or sister upon discovering her in illegitimate carnal relations and in the heat of passion caused by the offence to his honour or that of his family will be sentenced to three to seven years. The same sentence shall apply to whom, in the above circumstances, causes the death of the person involved in illegitimate carnal relations with his spouse, daughter, or sister.[108][109] Traditionally, honor crimes used to be more prevalent in Southern Italy.[82][110]

In 1546, Isabella di Morra, a young poet from Valsinni, Matera, was stabbed to death by her brothers for a suspected affair with a married nobleman, whom they also murdered.[111]

In 2006, 20-year-old Hina Saleem, a Pakistani woman who lived in Brescia, Italy, was murdered by her father who claimed he was "saving the family's honour". She had refused an arranged marriage, and was living with her Italian boyfriend.[112][113]

In 2009, in Pordenone, Italy, Sanaa Dafani, an 18-year-old girl of Moroccan origin, was murdered by her father because she had a relationship with an Italian man.[114][115]

In 2011, in Cerignola, Italy, a man stabbed his brother 19 times because his homosexuality was a "dishonour to the family".[116]


Main article: Honor killing of Anooshe Sediq Ghulam

Anooshe Sediq Ghulam was a 22-year-old Afghan refugee in Norway, who was killed by her husband in an honor killing. She had reported her husband to the police for domestic violence and was seeking a divorce.


In Sweden the 26-year-old Iraqi Kurdish woman Fadime Şahindal was killed by her father in 2002.[117][118][119] Kurdish organizations were criticized by prime minister Göran Persson for not doing enough to prevent honour killings.[118]Pela Atroshi was a Kurdish girl who was shot by her uncle in a brutal honour killing.[120] The murder of Pela and Fadime gave rise to the formation of the human rights organization GAPF – Never Forget Pela and Fadime. GAPF (the acronym stands for Never Forget Pela and Fadime) is a politically and religiously independent and secular nonprofit organization working against honor-related violence and oppression. The organization's name is taken from Pela Atroshi and Fadime Sahindal which are Sweden's best-known and high-profile cases of honor killings.[121][119] The honor killing of Sara, an Iraqi Kurdish girl, was the first publicized honor killing in Sweden.[119][122][123] Sara was killed in an honor killing by her brother and cousin when she was 15 years old. According to statements by her mother, Sara's brother believed that she "was a whore who slept with Swedish boys", and that even though he himself also slept with Swedish girls that "was different, because he is a male, and he would not even think of sleeping with Iraqi girls, only with Swedish girls, with whores.[124] These three prominent cases of Sara, Pela and Fadime, brought the notion of honour killings into Swedish discourse.[118]

In 2016 ten out of the 105 murder cases were honor killings, with 6 female and 4 male victims. The 10 represented roughly 10% of all murder cases and the 6 female victims represented a third of the 18 murders of women in Sweden that year.[125]


In 2010, a 16-year-old Pakistani girl was killed near Zurich, Switzerland, by her father who was dissatisfied with both her lifestyle and her Christian boyfriend.[126][127]

United Kingdom[edit]

Further information: Murder of Shafilea Ahmed and Honor killing of Samaira Nazir

Every year in the United Kingdom (UK), officials estimate that at least a dozen women are victims of honor killings, almost exclusively within Asian and Middle Eastern families.[128] Often, cases cannot be resolved due to the unwillingness of families, relatives and communities to testify. A 2006 BBC poll for the Asian network in the UK found that one in ten of the 500 young Asians polled said that they could condone the killing of someone who had dishonored their families.[129] In the UK, in December 2005, Nazir Afzal, Director, west London, of Britain's Crown Prosecution Service, stated that the United Kingdom has seen "at least a dozen honour killings" between 2004 and 2005.[130]

In 2010, Britain saw a 47% rise in the number of honor-related crimes. Data from police agencies in the UK report 2283 cases in 2010, and an estimated 500 more from jurisdictions that did not provide reports. These "honor-related crimes" also include house arrests and other parental punishments.[131] Most of the attacks were conducted in cities that had high immigrant populations.[132]

Banaz Mahmod, a 20-year-old Iraqi Kurdish woman from Mitcham, south London, was killed in 2006, in a murder orchestrated by her father, uncle and cousins.[133] Her life and murder were presented in a documentary called Banaz a Love Story, directed and produced by Deeyah Khan.

Another well-known case was Heshu Yones, stabbed to death by her Kurdish father in London in 2002 when her family heard a love song dedicated to her and suspected she had a boyfriend.[134] Other examples include the killing of Tulay Goren, a Kurdish Shia Muslim girl who immigrated with her family from Turkey,[135] and Samaira Nazir (Pakistani Muslim).[135]

A highly publicized case was that of Shafilea Iftikhar Ahmed, a 17-year-old British Pakistani girl from Great Sankey, Warrington, Cheshire, who was murdered in 2003 by her parents.[136] However, a lesser-known case is that of Gurmeet Singh Ubhi, a Sikh man who, in February 2011, was found guilty of the murder of his 24-year-old daughter, Amrit Kaur Ubhi in 2010.[137] Ubhi was found to have murdered his daughter because he disapproved of her being 'too westernised'. Likewise he also disapproved of the fact that she was dating a non-Sikh man.[138] In 2012, the UK had the first white victim of an honor killing: 17 year old Laura Wilson was killed by her Asian boyfriend, Ashtiaq Ashgar, because she revealed details of their relationship to his family, challenging traditional cultural values of the Asian family. Laura Wilson's mother told Daily Mail, “I honestly think it was an honour killing for putting shame on the family. They needed to shut Laura up and they did”. Wilson was repeatedly knifed to death as she walked along a canal in Rotherham city.[139][140]

In 2013, Mohammed Inayat was jailed for killing his wife and injuring three daughters by setting his house on fire in Birmingham. Inayat wanted to stop his daughter from flying to Dubai to marry her boyfriend, because he believed the marriage would dishonor his family.[141]

Memorial plaque for Hatun Sürücü in Berlin, Germany. The Kurdish woman from Turkey was murdered at age of 23 by her brothers in an honor killing.