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9/1/03 - HONOR KILLINGS - 2003-09-03

Each year, thousands of women and girls around the world are murdered because their actions are thought to have brought shame on their family. These so-called “honor” killings are generally carried out by the men in the family. A woman or girl may be murdered for marrying someone her family disapproves of, seeking a divorce, being raped, being suspected of adultery, dating without her parents’ permission, or even being the subject of a rumor. In many cases, the murderers receive only a mild penalty -- often less than a year in jail. Sometimes they avoid jail completely.

Such was the case with the father of a young woman in Jordan named Dalia. She is the subject of a new book titled “Honor Lost.” Written by Dalia’s friend, Norma Khouri, the book depicts the horrors of one so-called “honor” killing. Both in their twenties, Norma and Dalia operated a hair salon in Amman, Jordan’s capital. After Dalia became friendly with a young army officer who came to get a haircut, Norma helped the couple to meet together without their parents’ knowledge. But when Dalia’s father found out about the friendship, he stabbed Dalia to death.

According to Norma Khouri’s book, a Jordanian court found Dalia’s father guilty of a minor crime and sentenced him to only three months in jail. And he was not even required to serve that brief sentence because the period he was on bail awaiting trial counted as jail time.

In recent years, the royal family and government in Jordan have attempted to change popular attitudes toward so-called “honor” killings. These efforts have succeeded in reducing the number of these crimes. Now, women’s rights activists and others are urging the Jordanian parliament to approve a bill imposing appropriate punishments on perpetrators of “honor” killings.

Jordan is far from the only country where “honor” killings are an issue. The United Nations reports that they are also a serious problem in Bangladesh, Egypt, Pakistan, Turkey, Yemen, and Iraq, among other countries.

In Iraq, the problem grew worse after 1990, when, in an effort to curry favor with certain tribes, Saddam Hussein eliminated the penalties for “honor” killings. In 2002, the U-N said that more than four-thousand Iraqi women had been victims of such killings since the change. Iraqi women are determined that things will be different in a democratic Iraq.

Clearly, in all countries where “honor” killings occur, governments need to adopt and enforce appropriate laws. All people -- men and women alike -- deserve equal protection under the law.