Pakistan passes legislation against 'honor killings'
By Kelly Chen and Sophia Saifi, CNN
Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN)Under a new law perpetrators of so-called "honor killings" can no longer walk free in Pakistan if pardoned by the victim's family.
The bill, which failed to gain traction when it was first introduced in March, passed unanimously in both houses of parliament on Thursday.
"A vicious circle has now come to an end," Senator Farhatullah Babar told CNN. Now, a killer will face a minimum sentence of 25 years in jail, Babar said. "No murderer will be able to walk away free even if his parents or family members forgive him for killing his sister, wife or mother in the name of 'honor.'"
Pakistan's prime minister, Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, has been under pressure to prosecute those who commit violence against women. "Honor killings" typically involve a woman being slain by a relative who believes she has brought shame upon the family.
"There is no honor in honor killing," he said earlier this year and again in a statement after Thursday's vote.
"Women are the most essential part of our society and I believe in their empowerment, protection and emancipation so that they can equally contribute towards development and prosperity of our country."
Parliament also passed another bill that would make it easier to convict rapists thanks to mandatory DNA testing.
This milestone comes three months after a social media star and "modern day feminist" was killed by her brother for "dishonoring" the family.
In July, Waseem Baloch strangled his sister, Qandeel Baloch, at their home because he believed "girls are born to stay at home and follow traditions." He confessed the murder on video and expressed no remorse, saying, "I am proud of what I did. I drugged her first, then I killed her."
A month earlier a teenage girl's skull was smashed by her brother because he disapproved of her pending marriage.
According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, almost 300 women were victims of such killings in the first half of 2016. In a 2015 report by the World Economic Forum, Pakistan ranked 144 out of 145 countries on gender disparity.
Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, an activist whose documentary on honor killings won an Oscar earlier this year, called the bill "the first step."
"We need to have implementation and if we send enough people to jail for honor killings it will act as a deterrent," she said.
Others view the landmark reform with a critical eye, including opposition senator Sherry Rehman.
"I strongly want to say that this bill still needs a lot of amendments," said Rehman, who was the first parliamentarian in the country to introduce a bill against honor killings.
"That culture of impunity still has to go. The woman who has not been murdered, the survivors of such crimes have not been provided with any recourse. This bill only deals with murder and death," she said to CNN. "This still does not make honor killing a crime against the state, which is what we have also been working for. "
Kelly Chen and Sophia Saifi, CNN, 08/10/2016