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  1. ITV Report

Is the scale of so-called 'honour' killings in the UK bigger than we realise?

These are some of the faces of the British victims of so-called "honour" killings.

Each young woman died at the hands of those closest to them for apparently bringing shame on their families.

Every year, July 14 offers a Day of Memory to celebrate the lives that were ended so brutally.

But how common are so-called "honour" killings in the UK compared to the rest of the world?

And why in so many of the murder cases do victims rarely get justice?

"Honour-based abuse is just the tip of the iceberg"

The death of 17-year-old Shafilea Ahmed inspired the annual Day of Memory for victims. Credit: PA

Despite being denounced by all major religions, so-called "honour" killings are carried out on those deemed to have gone against cultural beliefs and, in doing so, "dishonoured" their families.

There are an estimated 12 such murder victims each year in the UK.

Yet British charity Karma Nirvana, which gets around 800 messages a month from concerned people, believes the true scale of abuse in Britain could be far greater.

The charity's executive director, Natasha Rattu, told ITV News: "What we know about honour-based abuse is just the tip of the iceberg.

"We're finding emerging communities affected by this issue that perhaps weren't coming forward 10 years ago that we need to be able to identify better."

The charity is holding an event on Monday at The Civic Hall in Leeds to commemorate those who have been murdered and sometimes forgotten within communities.

Ms Rattu said while there's a pause to remember victims on July 14, it falls amid the annual rush of threatened girls reaching out for help.

The summer sees a spike in the number of calls and emails for help from threatened young girls.

"The summer holidays approaching is just the busiest time of year for us because we have victims of forced marriage who are very concerned that they're going to be taken out of the country and forced into marriages."

She said being in relationships disapproved of by family members, being gay or - for those already married - seeking divorce all see women's lives threatened.

Others simply want to study and not play the role the family's culture has decreed.

Samaira Nazirn was stabbed to death in 2015 by her brother and cousin for wanting to marry outside of the family circle.

Banaz Mahmod was strangled by her father and uncle, aged just 20, in 2006 for leaving her abusive husband and starting a new relationship against her family's wishes.

Similar motivations ultimately led to the killings of mother-of-three Rania Alayed, Surjit Athwal, Samia Shahid and Heshu Yones by those born closest to them.

But it was the murder of 17-year-old Shafilea Ahmed on July 14, 2003 which led to the Day of Memory being established to restore a true honour to victims.

Shafilea was killed by her parents at home in Cheshire, who - while pretending to grieve - protested their innocence to reporters.

The judge said Farzana Ahmed's fear of being shamed by her community was greater than her love for her daughter. Credit: PA

Shafilea's body was dredged out of a Cumbrian river six months later and her parents jailed.

Her crime, in their eyes, was becoming too "Westernised" before her 18th birthday.

Her death came some years before the emergence of social media as a way in which young people around the world document their lives, often on public display.

Murder in the age of social media

It was the provocative photographs and videos shared by Qandeel Baloch which earned her the nickname of Pakistan's Kim Kardashian.

She was killed in 2016 by her brother.

Pakistani journalist Sanam Maher investigated the reaction to the high profile death for her book, A Woman Like Her: The Short Life of Qandeel Baloch, and said it marked an important juncture.

"It was a moment in Pakistan where a lot of women turned around and said they were fed up of shouldering the responsibility of carrying a family's honour... questioning why they were being placed in this position," she told ITV News.

Glamorous model Qandeel Baloch escaped an abusive marriage but was killed after defying Pakistan’s conservative norms. Credit: AP

Besides the heinous act of murder, it is also the reaction to the deaths which complicates efforts to bring justice for the victims.

Qandeel Baloch's murder is still going through the courts three years after her death, though Ms Maher said this is relatively fast-tracked compared to most such killings in Pakistan.

The nation changed the law in 2016 to prevent killers from walking free if they received their victim's family's consent.

But deaths continue and Ms Maher told ITV News many families and communities work to thwart justice, arguing that a recent law is no match for centuries of cultural heritage.

And so, she says, it remains that so many so-called honour killings "remain unsolved because the family or community is not going to report it in the first place, there is collusion within that family... they stay quiet about it".

How does the UK compare to the rest of the world?

The estimate of 12 people dying in the UK each year by the Honour Based Violence Awareness Network still pales in comparison to the global figure of more than 5,000.

The most common areas for the world's so-called 'honour' killings. Credit: ITV News

Yet campaigners like Ms Rattu of Karma Nirvana are calling for a more forensic study of the issue in Britain.

"There is no data set evidence (to accurately say) how grand a scale this issue is," she told ITV News.

"It's really important that that is done in order that this issue can be prioritised."

The charity also wants to see more training and awareness in communities across the UK to prevent more young women being posthumously honoured as a result of the most brutal of deaths.

After investigating the reaction to murder of Qandeel Baloch, Ms Maher was left in dismay that in any nation in 2019 killing remains the solution to families challenged by a young woman's behaviour and choices.

"What can a woman do that is so terrible, or in what way can she behave that is considered so out of line that to end her life seems like the most normal response?" she said.

"How can it be that in this day and age we're still living in a time where that is considered OK?"

Are you concerned about an individual or are experiencing abuse yourself?

  • Karma Nirvana's UK Helpline is available on 0800 5999 247 from Monday to Friday: 9am - 5pm and email is info@karmanirvana.org.uk
  • If you are in distress or need some support, the Samaritans are available 24 hours a day on 116 123 or through their website.