Joan Smith: 'Honour' killings are an outrage we must confront

Share
Related Topics

It's a startling statistic: in one British city alone, 33 children under the age of 16 are missing from school rolls. Officials in Bradford have not been able to establish what has happened to them, and there are fears that some may have become victims of forced marriage.

Two days ago the children's minister, Kevin Brennan, revealed the figure to the Home Affairs select committee and said that the Government also has concerns about 14 areas of the country which are suspected of having high levels of so-called "honour" crimes. Brennan said that Bradford City Council lost track of 205 children last year and had subsequently been able to establish the whereabouts of 172, leaving 33 – around 15 per cent – unaccounted for. While there may be an innocent explanation for some of them, the police and the Foreign Office forced marriage unit are dealing with around 500 cases each year.

The select committee's chair, Keith Vaz, described the minister's disclosures as "very, very serious" matters. "The figures you have given us quite frankly have shocked members of this committee just in relation to Bradford," Vaz told Brennan. "There are 14 others areas where there are missing children. This is totally unsatisfactory."

Last month the same committee heard evidence from a senior police officer that the true level of forced marriage and "honour" crime is not reflected in official figures, and that as many as 17,500 girls, women and young men may become victims each year. A series of trials has provided horrific insights into honour-based killings, one of the most shocking being the rape and murder in south London of a 20-year-old Kurdish woman, Banaz Mahmod, by hitmen hired by her father and uncle.

Until very recently, respect for the idea of multiculturalism has inhibited discussion of forced marriage and honour-based crimes in the UK. This doesn't help anyone, neither potential victims nor the young men who come under pressure from relatives to commit murder on their behalf; in 2004, two boys aged 16 and 19 were ordered by their Bangladeshi father to kill their sister's boyfriend, a student at Oxford Brookes University, who was from an Iranian family.

We have worrying levels of domestic violence in this country, carried out by people of all races and backgrounds, but it is important to recognise that honour-based crime is different in several important respects; it is planned in advance, may be carried out by more than one family member, and depends on the silent collusion, if not direct involvement, of many more. In Turkey, where hundreds of "honour" killings take place each year, a Turkish documentary-maker, Ayse Onal, has visited prisons all over the country, interviewing men who have been convicted of murdering sisters, daughters and mothers. Few of them show remorse and they are treated with respect by fellow-prisoners and guards, who approve of this method of restoring a family's "honour".

We urgently need to recognise honour-based killings as an expression of classic patriarchal values, which give fathers, brothers and uncles absolute power over women and younger, less-powerful males. In societies built on such values, girls and women are regarded as commodities, not individuals. They are usually married off before completing their education, passing illiteracy on to the next generation. In Pakistan, where honour-based crime is a huge problem, the female adult literacy rate is 36 per cent, according to the UN, and only 15 per cent of rural women receive an education.

In Egypt, 45 per cent of women over the age of 15 cannot read or write, and 85 per cent of female heads of households in rural areas are illiterate. "Very often, a family will take their daughter out of school aged 13 or 14," says Nihad Abul-Qumsan, director of the Egyptian Centre for Women's Rights. "By the time she's grown up, she'll have forgotten how to read or write properly."

Honour-based cultures depend on strict rules and even surgical procedures to allay their fears about women's sexuality, and a staggering 97 per cent of Egyptian women have undergone genital mutilation. The Egyptian government finally moved to ban the practice (with results that remain to be seen) last year, after a 12-year-old girl died as a consequence of FGM.

This is not just a women's issue. When half the population is denied basic human rights, from education to being able to choose who to marry, the consequences are profound. Women are the "huge, untapped" economic resource of the Middle East, according to the World Bank, and there is a direct link between female illiteracy, poverty and poor health; life expectancy increases dramatically when women learn to read and write, while infant mortality and fertility rates fall.

Patriarchal values are supposed to make men feel strong but the evidence is that they do just the opposite, filling fathers and sons with unbearable anxiety and trapping entire families in poverty. They are the enemy not just of women's rights but economic prosperity, and they have no place in the 21st century.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a friendly, confident i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Primary Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: At Tradewind Recruitment we are currently l...

Tradewind Recruitment: Physics Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Tradewind Recruitment is currently working ...

Recruitment Genius: Case Manager - Occupational Therapist / Physiotherapist

£28000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: I would tackle our looming dementia crisis

Susan Greenfield
 

Letters: NHS data-sharing is good for patients

Independent Voices
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee