Murder for the Sake of Honor

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AMMAN, Jordan - Every year 5,000 women are murdered in so-called 'honor killings' where members of a family kill one of their own women, like a mother or a sister because they believe her actions have shamed the family.

Rana Husseini says that honor is restored only when the women is dead. Husseini has documented the practice of honor killings as a reporter for The Times of Jordan.

"Living in a patriarchal society, women somehow tend to be always blamed," said Hussein. "Her family holds her responsible for their reputation and so the minute this woman does something wrong they see no solution but to kill her. For them blood cleanses honor."

Stoned for Love

On April 7, 2007, just outside Iraq's northern city of Mosul, 17-year-old Du'a Khalil Aswad was dragged by a group of relatives, including her brother and uncle, into the village square.

Hundreds of townspeople watched as she was stripped, kicked and repeatedly stoned. Her gruesome killing was caught on a video cell phone.

Aswad's crime: She was in love with a young man and members of her family disapproved.

Thousands of Women killed for Family 'Honor'

Each year, hundreds, if not thousands, of people worldwide are shot, stabbed, strangled, stoned or burned to death. And almost always the victim is a woman accused of tarnishing her family's honor.

"Families decide to kill for these reasons: rumors, suspicion, rape, if a woman is raped sometimes they blame her for the rape; incest also they might kill her," Choosing her own man to get married to, talking to a man, losing her virginity, becoming pregnant out of wedlock," Husseini told CBN News from her office in downtown Amman.

Husseini is now on a mission to end the silence surrounding this horrific practice.

"I'm here to speak in the name of these women who have no voices," Hussein said as she glanced through the hundreds of articles she'd written over the years.

Her upcoming book, "Murder in the Name of Honor" documents the rise of honor crimes worldwide.

"The typical honor killer usually is the brother and sometimes, some families are very knowledgeable about the law, sometimes they choose minors to commit the crime," she said. "Because in such crimes they get away with very lenient sentences. It could range from three months to two years."

Crimes of Honor

It's difficult to get precise numbers, but the United Nations estimates that worldwide at least 13 people are killed a day - at least 5,000 a year.

And while the majority of these crimes occur in Arab and Muslim countries, a growing number take place in immigrant communities in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere.

The crime of honor killings is not just limited to Muslim communities in the Middle East. According to Husseini, Christian families are also taking part in this horrific crime.

"The proof is that in Jordan, I've covered several cases lets say five or six cases of Christian women who were killed by their families because they tarnished their family's honor," said Husseini.

Women as Property

But the problem is generally more prevalent in Islamic cultures where women are often viewed as property with no rights.

A few months before Du'a Khalil's murder, Fareeda, also from Northern Iraq, was kidnapped from her home and taken to the Turkish city of Silopi. There she was drugged, raped, and sold into prostitution.

"I was treated like an animal," said Fareeda as she fought back tears. "I was used like a piece of meat."

Fareeda was discovered by Turkish authorities and sent back to Iraq. But instead of being welcomed home, her family now wants her dead.

"To them I am dirty and worthless," Fareeda said.

Fareeda is being protected by a group of human rights activists at an undisclosed location. But the day CBN News met her, she had tried to kill herself by jumping from this window.

"I don't want to live anymore," she said. "I am as good as dead to my family."

Protective Custody

In Jordan, if a woman is afraid that her family wants to kill her, she can check herself into the local prison. That's what Wadid did after she was raped.

"A few months later I found out I was pregnant. I was afraid to tell my family, so I kept my mouth shut until my pregnancy started to show. When I was due, I went to hospital and gave birth," said Wadid with her face covered with a white cloth to protect her identity. "They asked me for the family ID card, but I did not have one. They told the police and that's why I'm here."

The only problem is that Wadid can't check herself out of prison. The only person who can check her out is a male relative.

"And most of the time if the family decides they want to release their female, 99 percent it's to kill them," said reporter Husseini.

Nourhan Fakoury, a human rights expert based in Amman, says dozens of women are languishing under this so-called 'protective' custody in Jordanian prisons.

"Actually some of the women, they've been in the prison for more than five years," Fakoury told CBN News from her home on the outskirts of Amman.

Escaping Honor Killings

Zaina and Shadi got out last year only after agreeing to get married in prison.

"We had a child outside of marriage," said Shadi, whose last name and face have been concealed for security reasons. "This is considered adultery in Jordan."

Zaina chimed in saying, "The only way to restore our family's honor was to get married or else risk being killed."

Honor killings are technically illegal in Jordan, but tradition and social pressure make it difficult to amend laws that allow killers to get off with little or no punishment.

"We just can't abandon these traditions quickly it will take time," said Imad Maayah, a Jordanian member of Parliament. "We are making progress and things are going to get better."

Ending Violence Against Women

Social, religious and political groups are steering a public debate on the topic. But challenges remain. Husseini receives numerous death threats and is accused of being anti-Islamic.

Still, she is trying to convince her society and others around the world that life is more important than some distorted view of honor.

*Originally published September 4, 2009

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George Thomas

George Thomas

CBN News Sr. Reporter

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