honor-killingAn honor killing also called shame killing is the homicide of a member of a family by other members, due to the executioner’s 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.

Human Rights Watch defines “honor killings” as “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, like refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, being the victim of a sexual assault, seeking a divorce even– from an abusive husband– or (apparently) committing adultery. The only perception that a woman has behaved in a way that “dishonors” her family is sufficient to trigger an attack on her life.

The perceived dishonor is normally the result of one of the following behaviors, or the intuition of such behaviors. The details are discussed in later section.

  1. Dressing in a manner unacceptable to the family or community,
  2. Wanting to terminate or prevent an arranged marriage or desiring to marry by own choice,
  3. Engaging in heterosexual sexual acts outside marriage, or even due to a non-sexual relationship perceived as inappropriate, and
  4. Engaging in homosexual acts. Women and girls are killed at a much higher rate than men.

In Pakistan, honor killing is known locally as karo-kari, کاروکاری‎. Originally, karo and kari were metaphoric terms for adulterer and adulteress, but it has come to be used with regards to multiple forms of perceived immoral behavior. Once a woman is labeled as a kari, family members consider themselves to be authorized to kill her and the co-accused karo in order to restore family honour. In the majority of cases, the victim of the attacks is female with her attackers being male members of her family or community.

Methods Used for Honor Killing

Methods of killing include stoning, stabbing, beating, burning, beheading, hanging, throat slashing, lethal acid attacks, shooting and strangulation. The murders are sometimes performed in public to make an example and warn the other women within the community of possible consequences of doing so what is perceived as illicit behavior.

Triggers of honor killings

Refusal of an arranged 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.

Seeking a divorce

A woman attempting to obtain a divorce or separation without the consent of the husband can also be a trigger for honor killings. In cultures like Pakistan 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. By making their marital problems known outside the family, the women are seen as exposing the family to public dishonor.

Allegations and rumors about a family member

In some cultures, an allegation against a woman can be enough to stain her family’s reputation, and to trigger an honor killing. The family’s fear of being rejected by the community is an epic.

Victims of rape

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. This is especially the case if the victim becomes pregnant.

Central to the code of honor, in many societies, is a woman’s virginity, which must be preserved until marriage. “A woman’s virginity is the property of the men around her, first her father, later a gift for her husband.


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, a male acting or dressing in a “feminine way” for example, can also increase the feelings and lead to honor violence.

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