Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Self immolation on the rise among Afghan women

An increasing number of young Afghan women decide that suicide is their only way of escaping violence and forced marriages, according to this item on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour. Self-immolation – setting fire to oneself – is the most common method. Human rights organisations say that the number of reported cases have doubled in some parts of Afghanistan over the past year. The main causes of this disturbing phenomenon are domestic violence and forced child marriages (picture of 11 year old child bride, above right, with 55 year old groom. New York Times magazine).

According to this statement from medica mondiale, self-immolation is very frequently employed by young women and girls as a way of escaping violence in their families – even if this means death. Media mondiale is an NGO advocating for the rights of women who have suffered sexual violence in conflict situations. The statement says that:

  • Suicide occurs in all provinces, amongst both men and women (hanging, shooting, drowning in wells or rivers, taking rat poison or tablets, poisoning etc.).
  • Self-immolation is the most common method in the province, with especially frequent occurrences in the west in the Herat area.
  • Self-immolation is particularly frequent among women and girls in the 10-40 age group, although men also self-immolate.
  • Decisive factors amongst women and girls include profound psychological and physical violence (beatings, psychological torture, etc.) over extended periods of time, the still widespread custom of families exchanging girls as brides, for example in order to obtain money or goods, or to “pay off” debts or crimes, marriages of couples without their consent etc.
  • All these practices, which are rooted in archaic traditions and increasingly go hand-in-hand with rising levels of general poverty since the end of the war, are manifestations of the use of violence against the women and girls concerned and determine how they live their lives.
  • 85 per cent of the women who die as a result of their burns die because they are not taken to hospital, or are taken there too late, or because the hospitals have neither the medicines they need, nor skilled specialist healthcare staff.
  • An extreme social taboo surrounds self-immolation and it is kept quiet as much as possible, in order to spare the family of the victim from the “shame”. For survivors that means social isolation and exclusion.

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