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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 December, 2004, 17:44 GMT
'Honour-killings bill too weak'
Alleged rape victims in Pakistan
Women alleged to have been raped are at risk
Pakistan's only woman cabinet minister says she accepts that a bill tightening legislation against so-called honour killings does not go far enough.

But Zobaida Jalal said the fact that Pakistan's male-dominated parliament passed the bill at all was progress.

"For it to be approved is an achievement for the government and especially for women," Ms Jalal told the BBC's news website.

Critics say the bill does not do enough to protect women.

When you have a feudal system in place in a country you have a lot to fight for
Zobaida Jalal,
social welfare minister

They are angry it has not outlawed the practice of killers being able to buy their freedom by paying compensation to the victim's relatives.

This, they say, is a recipe for intimidation, as the wealthy and powerful often force others to comply.

Opposition politicians walked out of the Senate during its vote on the bill on Tuesday, saying the legislation should have gone further.

The bill needs President Pervez Musharraf's signature to become law.

'First step'

Ms Jalal, federal minister for social welfare and special education, said that, as a woman, she accepted the loophole of killers buying pardons should have been closed.

But she added: "The whole issue of actually passing a bill for the first time in the history of Pakistan - for it to come up, to go through the National Assembly and then be approved by the Senate - is an achievement as a first step.

Federal social welfare minister Zobaida Jalal
Ms Jalal says courts will decide

"Even among our own parliamentarians, colleagues and others, there may have been some male colleagues who would have not wanted that to be there."

And she said it would now be up to judges to decide on the issue of compensation in return for pardons.

"If you look at the bill there is very clearly a clause saying the court will become the decision-maker."

Under the provisions of the bill, the death penalty will now be the maximum punishment for crimes in which victims are killed if judged to have brought dishonour on the family.

The law brings in stiffer penalties - a minimum of 10 years - for all cases where men kill female relatives for a perceived sleight on their family or tribal honour.

Hundreds of women are killed in this way every year in Pakistan.

Alleged misdemeanours include adultery, marrying without the family's consent, pre-marital sex or having been raped. Many of the crimes, mostly in rural, tribal areas, go unpunished.

'Taboo'

Asked why numbers of "honour killings" were on the rise, Ms Jalal said more crimes were being reported.

"The reason we feel it's rising is because people are speaking now. Initially nobody could even talk about these things. It was a taboo."

She said a major media campaign would accompany the new law, but she acknowledged that the legislation would be judged by how it was implemented.

The minister said judges had already started taking action - she knew of recent convictions even in remote areas of Balochistan, Punjab and Sindh provinces where honour killings were most prevalent.


SEE ALSO:
Pakistan honour killing bill passed
08 Dec 04 |  South Asia
School hope for rape victim
07 Dec 04 |  South Asia
'Honour killings' law tightened
26 Oct 04 |  South Asia
Pakistan 'honour killings' arrests
11 Feb 04 |  South Asia
Musharraf plea on 'honour killings'
10 Feb 04 |  South Asia


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