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Al-Jazeera, November 28, 2009

Suicide in Afghanistan

Forced marriages and violent abuse drive the women to despair. Few of them even know about their rights to divorce.

By David Chater

Women in pain
There’ve been 66 such cases admitted to this specialized clinic so far this year. 41 of them have died. (Photo: AFP)

The last time I stood by the bedside of a woman who’d tried to burn herself to death was in Kandahar one year ago. She was screaming in pain and later died. It was not an experience I wanted to repeat.

But this week I found myself in the Burns Unit at a hospital in Herat watching a mother spoon feed her child some rice through lips that were horribly blistered. Yet another case of self-immolation and another image that will haunt me long after I’ve left Afghanistan.

Letifa was only 11 years old when her father told her she had been betrothed to a man who was more than twenty years her senior. One day she simply poured petrol over her head and struck a match.

The doctors say she has a fifty-fifty chance of surviving. The burns went deep. There’ve been 66 such cases admitted to this specialized clinic so far this year. 41 of them have died.

There are many other cases where the victims live in outlying villages and never reach the hospital. The official statistics probably give no real indication of the scale of this problem in Afghanistan.

There is a social stigma attached to suicide here. Many families send their daughters to Iran for treatment. But all social workers in this field agree the reasons behind the suicide attempts are chillingly similar.

Forced marriages and violent abuse drive the women to despair. Few of them even know about their rights to divorce.

A woman in her forties called Shazda who was being treated in the burns ward summed it all up well:

“ My husband was beating me all the time. He would abuse me physically and verbally, complaining all the time.I felt useless. I’ve spent all my life with him and he never changed. So I burned myself. I thought I would die. Now I am suffering terrible pain in my legs.”

Category: Women, HR Violations - Views: 10340