LAHORE - Although the incidents of so-called honour killings saw a slight decrease during the previous year in the most populated Punjab province, yet a large number of people were murdered for bringing shame to their families in 2016.

The latest figures collected by the provincial police department revealed that at least 248 persons, mostly women, were murdered by their relatives ‘in the name of honour’ in 2016 across the Punjab province. In 2015, the provincial police had registered at least 328 cases of honour killings.

This reasonable decrease in such killings is being attributed to last year’s anti-honour killing legislation introduced in October. But analysts say it was too early to say that the newly-introduced laws brought down the ratio of honour killings.

According to official statistics, at least 404 persons were murdered for so-called honour in 2014; 388 in 2013; 366 in 2012; and 364 in 2011. Most of the victims were young women who were butchered by their relatives for bringing a ‘bad name’ to the families or communities.

During the last five years (2016 to 2012), at least 1,734 persons were murdered across the Punjab province, the latest police report reveals.

The Faisalabad police region, the hometown of provincial law minister Rana Sana Ullah, witnessed the highest number of honour killings last year. Faisalabad, Jhang, Toba Tek Singh, and Chiniot districts saw at least 61 honour killings in 2016.

At least 24 such murders took place in Lahore, Sheikhupura, Nankana and Kasur districts last year. Similarly, the police registered 25 honour killings in Gujranwala, Hafizabad, Gujrat, Mandi Bahauddin, Sialkot and Narowal districts in 2016.

Twelve cases were reported in Rawalpindi, Attock, Jhelum, and Chakwal districts. Some 36 incidents of honour killings were reported by police in Sargodha, Khushab, Mianwali, and Bhakkar districts during the previous year.

No less than 21 killings took place in Multan, Lodhran, Khanewal, and Vehari districts. Also, 30 killings were reported by police in Sahiwal, Okara, and Pakpattan districts.

Dera Ghazi Khan, Rajanpur, Muzaffargarh, and Layyah districts witnessed seven such killings last year. As many as 25 killings for honour were reported in Bahawalpur, Bahawalnagar and Rahim Yar Khan in 2016, according to police data.

The brutal killing of social media entertainer Qandeel Baloch and the cold-blooded murder of British national Samia Shahid in the Punjab province last year had brought international condemnations. Both the incidents forced the federal government to introduce harsher punishment for those involved in honour killings.

In October last year, a joint session of the Parliament had unanimously approved anti-honour killing and anti-rape bills moved by PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar. Under the new legislation, the culprits would still face a mandatory life sentence of twelve-and-a-half years even the killer is pardoned by relatives of the victim.

The amended laws mandate the judges to sentence someone who kills somebody in the name of “honour” to life imprisonment. Even if the complainant pardons the murderer, the court is bound to send him to jail for 25 years, legal experts say. “This law, if implemented fully and properly, will surely discourage the practice,” they argued.

Some 500 women including teenage girls are killed every year in the name of honour across the country. However, only a few criminals are brought to justice. Most of the culprits flee punishments because the previous laws allowed other family members to pardon a killer.

On the other hand, some legal experts interviewed by The Nation were not very hopeful that the new legislation will make any difference as far as conviction of the killers was concerned. In most of the cases related to honour killings, the police and the courts have to rely on same evidences required in ordinary murder cases.

The murder case of Qandeel Baloch is a case in point. Qandeel was found strangled at her parents’ home in Muzaffargarh district of the Punjab province in July. In a rare move last year, the government termed the murder as a crime against the state and became a complainant in the police case against Qandeel’s brothers, who are on trail.

Last week, the police filed a criminal case against the parents of slain social media star as they back-tracked from their previous statement. The victim’s parents, Muhammad Azeem and Anwar Bibi, had originally named two of their sons in the killing, but during the court proceedings on Wednesday they stated that their elder son, Aslam Shaheen, was innocent.

“Who will differentiate between ordinary murder case and a case of honour killing? The evidence collection in honour killing cases will always be difficult and complicated. That’s why, a person who kills his sister, daughter, or mother cannot be convicted,” legal experts say.

Similarly, a person after killing his female relative may declare the honour killing as a simple murder over property dispute or any other reason to flee punishment. The experts also suggest that the standard of evidence should be relaxed which would increase the possibility of conviction.

The circumstantial evidence should be given importance instead of relying on typical method of direct evidence that is testimonies of the witnesses. There must be given a legal clause to ascertain the motives behind the murder cases.