Honour Crimes

Almost two-thirds (69%) of young British Asians aged 16-34 consider that families should live according to the concept of ‘honour’ or ‘izzat’. The proportion is lowest among Asian Christians (62%) and Hindus (64%) and greatest for Muslims (70%) and Sikhs (79%).

This is one of the findings of a ComRes poll undertaken on behalf of the BBC as background for a Panorama special on ‘Britain’s Crimes of Honour’, being broadcast tonight (BBC One, 8.30 pm). 500 young Asians living in Britain were interviewed by telephone between 23 and 27 February 2012. Data tables are available at:


A similar number of respondents (66%) argued that, while ‘izzat’ exists in some sections of society, its extent has been exaggerated by the media. This was particularly felt by young Asian Muslims (73%) and Sikhs (72%), less so by Christians (65%) or Hindus (53%).

Backing for the extremer manifestations of ‘izzat’ was small. Thus, only 6% of all young Asians believed that, in certain circumstances, it could be right to punish physically a female member of the family if she brought dishonour to it or the community. No Sikhs agreed with this, but 9% of Hindus, 8% of Christians, and 6% of Muslims did so.

Notwithstanding, three times this number (i.e. 18%) in the entire sample selected one or more of five ‘reasonable justifications’ for physical punishment of female members of the family. The figure was highest among Asian Christians (23%), followed by Muslims (20%), Sikhs (14%), and Hindus (13%).

The relative weight attached to each of the five justifications varied somewhat, but generally disobeying paternal wishes was the top concern for Asian Christians (10%), going out in the evening unaccompanied most perturbed Muslims (9%), and wanting to terminate an existing or prearranged marriage preoccupied Sikhs (9%).

The ultimate punishment of ‘honour killing’ was sanctioned by 3% of young Asians, including the same number of Muslims and Hindus, but rising to 4% of Sikhs and Christians. Support for ‘honour killings’ has thankfully fallen since 2006 when, in a similar survey of young Asians aged 16-34, 8% overall justified such killings, peaking at 14% among Hindus and Christians.

‘Izzat’, therefore, does not appear to be the preserve of any particular faith but seems to reflect the wider cultural inheritance of many young British Asians. Presumably, the same is likely to be true of older Asians, among whom the concept may be stronger, and perhaps endorsement of ‘honour killings’ slightly higher.

However, the ComRes poll strikingly illustrates that ‘izzat’ is not just a generational attitude, which will eventually die out as the older and less ‘westernized’ British Asian cohorts pass on. It is clearly a concept which has been successfully transmitted by their parents to young British Asians of all faiths, albeit in a somewhat attenuated form.

The Crown Prosecution Service is quoted as saying that there are between 10 and 12 honour killings a year in this country. A recent analysis of police force statistics identified over 2,800 honour crimes annually, but experts suspect this to be a significant underestimate.



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