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Third of teens in Amman, Jordan, condone honor killings, study says

By Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
updated 8:24 AM EDT, Thu June 20, 2013
(File photo) Study: Almost half of boys and one in five girls in Jordan's capital, Amman, believe that honor killing is justifiable.
(File photo) Study: Almost half of boys and one in five girls in Jordan's capital, Amman, believe that honor killing is justifiable.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Researchers look at attitudes about "honor" murders among teenagers in Amman, Jordan
  • A third of more than 850 teenagers surveyed believe honor killings are justifiable
  • Study: Support is "anchored in a broader system of beliefs about patriarchal authority"
  • Teenage boys with low education backgrounds are more likely to condone honor killings

(CNN) -- Almost half of boys and one in five girls in Jordan's capital city, Amman, believe that killing a woman who has "dishonored," or shamed, her family is justifiable, a study of teenagers' attitudes published Thursday revealed.

A third of all teenagers involved in the study by researchers at Britain's Cambridge University advocated so-called honor murders.

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A key finding was that support for honor crimes was not connected to religious beliefs, but is far more likely in adolescent boys with low education backgrounds from traditional families.

Professor Manuel Eisner and Cambridge graduate student Lana Ghuneim interviewed more than 850 teenagers, with an average age of 15, for the study, published in the journal Aggressive Behavior.

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Honor crimes can include physical assaults, rape, acid attacks and disfigurement, as well as murder.

They can be triggered by a range of acts thought to bring shame on the family, from premarital sex to adultery to pregnancy outside marriage, or even contact by the woman with a man who is not a relation.

The researchers say their study is one of the first to attempt to gauge cultural attitudes about honor murders in the region.

It found that attitudes in support of honor murders "are anchored in a broader system of beliefs about patriarchal authority and dominance, and assumptions about female virginity and chastity."

This means that any attempt to change views would probably need to tackle the broader cultural support for patriarchal dominance, it said.

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In total, 33.4% of all those surveyed either "agreed" or "strongly agreed" with situations depicting honor killings. Boys were more than twice as likely to support honor killings: 46.1% of boys and 22.1% of girls agreed with at least two honor killing situations in the questionnaire.

We noted substantial minorities of girls, well-educated and even irreligious teenagers who consider honor killing morally right.
Manuel Eisner

About six in 10 teenagers from the lowest level of educational background showed supportive attitudes towards honor killing, as opposed to about one in five where at least one family member has a university degree.

Teenagers who had a large number of siblings were more likely to condone honor killings than those from smaller families, the study found.

Belief Blog: Islam doesn't justify 'honor murders,' experts insist

"While we found the main demographic in support of HKA (honor killing attitudes) to be boys in traditional families with low levels of education, we noted substantial minorities of girls, well-educated and even irreligious teenagers who consider honor killing morally right, suggesting a persisting society-wide support for the tradition," said Eisner.

"Any meaningful attempt to reduce attitudes in support of such practices requires a broader societal commitment, including coherent messages against honor-related violence from political and religious elites, and decisive action by the criminal justice system."

Jordan has a long traditional of honor crimes, the researchers note, although it has taken steps in recent years to pass stricter laws against the practice.

Until 2001, an article of the Jordanian Penal Code stated that a man who "catches his wife, or one of his female close relatives committing adultery with another, and he kills wounds or injures one or both of them, is exempt from any penalty."

In line with new legislation passed since then, a special court was set up in 2009 to prosecute honor crimes, the researchers say.

But their study indicates attitudes are not necessarily changing in line with new legislation, even in a younger generation.

CNN's Schams Elwazer contributed to this report.

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