Pakistan lawmakers to debate honour killing, rape laws

Rights groups and politicians have for years called for tougher laws to tackle perpetrators of violence against women in Pakistan. Photograph:( Getty )

AFP Islamabad, Pakistan Jul 21, 2016, 08.50 AM (IST)

Pakistan's parliament will on Thursday debate bills aimed at tackling the so-called honour killings and amending its rape law, officials said, following the murder of a social media star last week.

Rights groups and politicians have for years called for tougher laws to tackle perpetrators of violence against women in Pakistan and the debate follows a slew of high-profile killings in the country.

Lawmakers from both lower and upper houses of parliament will take up proposed bills on Thursday afternoon, parliament official Hasan Murtaza Bukhari said, and votes on the suggested changes are expected within weeks.

"After discussion and approval of these bills by this committee, the drafts will be tabled in a joint sitting of the house which is likely to promptly take it up," he said.

"But we are not sure that how much time this process will take. The salient features of these drafts will also be known only after being presented in the committee," added Bukhari.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's ruling Pakistan Muslim League (N) has a large majority of seats in the lower house and the bills are believed to have enough backing from opposition parties to pass in the senate too.

The proposed bills could seek to close a loophole that allows those who kill in the name of honour,  usually a relative of the victim,  to evade punishment by seeking clemency from other family members.

Pakistan amended its criminal code in 2005 to prevent men who kill female relatives pardoning themselves as an "heir" of the victim.

But punishment is left to a judge's discretion when other relatives of the victim forgive the killer, a loophole which critics say is exploited.

Social media starlet Qandeel Baloch was strangled to death by her brother on Friday, once again casting a spotlight on the custom of "honour killings", which claims around a thousand lives in Pakistan every year.

Held up by many of the country's youth for her liberal views and forthrightness, was also reviled by many and frequently subject to misogynist abuse online.

Rights group Amnesty International this week called on the country to "undertake structural reforms that end impunity for so-called 'honour' killings, including by passing legislation that removes the option of clemency for such killings".