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UNICEF Executive Director targets violence against women

Tuesday, 7 March 2000: In a statement marking International Women's Day, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy issued a strong attack against culturally-sanctioned homicidal violence directed at women and girls around the world. She said 'honour' killings, acid violence, female infanticide and bride burning are examples of men and boys killing or seriously injuring female family and community members with impunity.

Ms. Bellamy said it is an outrage when those who commit such crimes are openly admired in their communities and are subjected to only token prosecution.

"For too long, some men have been getting away with murder," said the UNICEF Executive Director. "It is time for governments and local communities to acknowledge these actions as crimes and to act decisively to prevent the continuing murder and disfiguring of thousands of girls and women. Such crimes should be swiftly prosecuted."

Although these crimes are unacceptable to the public in virtually all countries, the practices persist, even where there are legal prohibitions, Ms. Bellamy said. She praised UNICEF-supported efforts by women's organisations campaigning against 'honour' killing, especially in Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan and Pakistan.

UNICEF has also helped launch awareness programmes and organised sensitisation workshops on violence against women in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. The agency's Bangladesh effort includes support for a foundation for survivors of acid attacks. In India UNICEF has supported NGO and government projects on bride burning and against the practice of dowry.

Ms. Bellamy said that 'honour' crimes are hardly confined to developing nations. "Under whatever name, such crimes are committed worldwide." she observed. "They occur whenever a man regards a woman as his property and seeks to uphold this false assumption by cruel and abusive force."

'Honour killing' is an ancient practice in which men kill female relatives in the name of family 'honour' for forced or suspected sexual activity outside marriage, even when they have been victims of rape.

Any number of reasons can lead to acid attacks. A delayed meal or rejection of a marriage proposal are offered as justification for a man to disfigure a woman with acid.

Female infanticide is the killing of a girl child within weeks of her birth. Bride burning is when husbands engineer an 'accident' (frequently the bursting of a kitchen stove) when they feel the obligatory marriage dower (gifts from in-laws) is not enough.

Currently available figures suggests the extent of these crimes against women and girls:

'Honour' Crimes: In 1997, some 300 women were estimated to have been killed in the name of 'honour' in one province of Pakistan alone. According to 1999 estimates, more than two-thirds of all murders in Gaza strip and West bank were most likely 'honour' killings. In Jordan there are an average of 23 such murders per year.

Thirty-six 'honour' crimes were reported in Lebanon between 1996 and 1998, mainly in small cities and villages. Reports indicate that offenders are often under 18 and that in their communities they are sometimes treated as heroes. In Yemen as many as 400 'honour' killings took place in 1997. In Egypt there were 52 reported 'honour' crimes in 1997.

Acid Attacks: In Bangladesh between 1996 and 1998 there was a four-fold increase in reported acid attacks from 47 to more than 200.

Dowry Deaths: In India, it is estimated that more than 5,000 women are killed each year because their in-laws consider their dowries inadequate. A tiny percentage of their murderers are brought to justice.

Female Infanticide: Infanticide has been practiced as a brutal method of family planning in societies where boy children are still valued, economically and socially, above girls. Anecdotal evidence suggests that outright infanticide, usually of newborn girls, takes place in some communities in Asia. Medical testing for sex selection, though officially outlawed, has become a booming business in China, India and the Republic of Korea.

Though no reliable infanticide statistics are available, there remain substantial disparities in gender population figures in these areas.

Ms. Bellamy said that these crimes, along with forced marriages, involuntary virginity tests, female genital mutilation, trafficking and forced prostitution, are egregious violations of girls' and women's rights, based on outmoded and unjust cultural norms.

She cited the call of United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) on governments to recognize, and work to modify, inherited prejudices and customs which have made so-called 'honour' killings and acid attacks acceptable.

Today's International Women's Day appeal followed Ms. Bellamy's strong condemnation of child trafficking for sexual purposes a month ago in Japan.

Please email media@unicef.org with comments or requests for more information, quoting CF/DOC/PR/2000/17


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