Every year, around 5,000 so-called "honour killings" occur across the world. The crimes are mainly directed at women and might include kidnappings and beatings. In many cases, the killers also kill other family members to avoid being dishonoured.
These numbers are based on research conducted by the Human Rights Watch. An honour killing is defined as a murder committed by a member of a society in which such acts are tolerated or justified. It is important to note that this definition refers only to murders committed by individuals or groups within those societies. It does not include acts of violence committed by state actors.
According to the same study, five countries account for more than 90% of all known honor killings: Pakistan, India, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Iraq. Other countries where honor killings may occur include Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Sudan and Syria. Although many countries in Europe and North America have laws prohibiting discrimination against people because of their race, religion, gender or disability, there are no federal laws protecting victims from an honor killing. Even though the majority of honor killings are committed by relatives of the victim, individuals from different backgrounds have been involved in these crimes.
In addition to being a global problem, honor killings are also common in certain regions of the world.
In the United Kingdom, honor-based violence exists. Murders have occasionally occurred as a result of a family's violent reaction to their son or daughter adopting the trappings of western society. It is estimated that up to 12 honour murders occur each year. They are most commonly found in South Asian and Middle Eastern families.
Honor killings can also occur within ethnic groups, such as within Indian families. Within this group, it is believed that a man dishonors his family by marrying outside his caste, losing money to gambling, or by working with people from another caste. If these actions are found out about, the dishonored man may be killed by members of his own family. Honor crimes against women are common within Muslim cultures. These women may be murdered for acting like men or for failing to behave like a proper woman. They often suffer severe beatings before they are killed.
Within Christian communities, an honor killing may occur if a son refuses to follow his father's trade. For example, if a son wishes to pursue studies instead, he could be forced to drop out of school to help support the family business. If he refuses, then the son might be killed to show him that tradition comes first. In some cases, fathers will kill their sons to keep the family name alive (if the son is not expected to live, then no one will carry on the name).
In North America, honor killings occur mostly among Arab and South Asian families.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau of India's 2018 crime statistics report, there were 30 murders with reasons described as "honour killings" in 2018. (India, 162). This makes honour killings one of the most common causes of death among women in India.
There have been reports of a rise in honour killings in India. The New Indian Express reported that between 2013 and 2017, there was a threefold increase in honour-related crimes committed across India. There were 87 honour-related murders recorded between 2013 and 2017, compared to 30 over the same period in 2008-2012. The newspaper attributed this rise to new laws aimed at punishing such attacks.
Another reason given for this rise is the growing number of female infanticide in India. If a family does not want a girl child, but instead wants a boy, they often will kill her after she is born. This can be done either by throwing her out of a window or dropping her off at a temple. Because of this practice, India has the highest rate of infant mortality in the world, with about one in every two babies dying before their first birthday.
Finally, the New Indian Express reports that more families are seeking out "honour killers". Before these crimes became public knowledge through media reports, some families used "shameful deaths" to avoid embarrassment.
Honor murders are often reported in the Middle East and South Asia, but they also occur in Brazil, Canada, Iran, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Egypt, Sweden, Syria, Uganda, the United Kingdom, the United States, and other nations, according to the UN. In many of these countries, the laws against murder do not include a punishment for an honor killing.
In the West, women are more likely to be murdered by their spouses or former spouses than by parents or siblings. Spouses can kill each other with little fear of prosecution if they have a "honor" reason for killing each other—such as seeking a divorce or leaving the partner home alone with the children—say human rights groups. The American Bar Association has called this type of homicide "a form of domestic violence that affects individuals within certain cultures where men abuse their social status through violence to ensure that their wives obey their directives."
However, not all countries that allow honor killings to be punished by death actually follow through with executions for these crimes. Some countries that allow honor killings to be punished by death don't execute anyone because they believe that those who commit honor killings already receive too much leniency from the law.
Other countries that allow honor killings to be punished by death punish perpetrators of honor crimes with long prison sentences rather than executions. Still others have specific statutes prohibiting honor killings but lack any mechanism for punishing offenders who act on such prejudices.