HERAT, 9 September 2008 (IRIN) - Sarah, 20, set herself ablaze in a desperate
bid to end her life after four years of marriage to a drug addict in Sheendand
District in western Afghanistan. Her family extinguished the fire and took her
to the hospital.
Listen to the radio
report in Dari
Photo: Khaled Nahiz/ IRIN
Domestic violence forces some Afghan women into "self-immolation,
suicide, escape from home, forced prostitution and addiction to
narcotics," according to AIHRC
"I was sad when I opened my eyes in the hospital," the severely burnt woman told
IRIN. Sarah's husband is a jobless drug addict who often beat her for alleged
"I wanted to die and never come back to this life," she told IRIN from her bed
in the Herat city hospital.
Doctors said up to 40 percent of her body was severely burnt and it would take
her months to recover.
Ninety percent deaths
Over the past six months, at least 47 self-immolation cases have been recorded
by Herat city hospital alone, of whom seven were saved but 40 died.
"Ninety percent of the women who commit self-immolation die at hospital due to
deep burns and fatal injuries," said Arif Jalai, a dermatologist at the Herat
Almost all the women had doused themselves with petrol and set themselves
alight, according to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC).
A growing phenomenon
Photo: Khaled Nahiz/ IRIN
Up to ninety percent of the women who commit self-immolation die
at hospitals from extremely serious burns
More than six years after the ousting of the Taliban
regime in 2001 when all women were denied the right to work and education, many
women suffer domestic and social violence, discrimination and lack of access to
unbiased justice and other services, women's rights activists say.
"Domestic violence against women not only has serious physical and mental
effects on women but also causes other grave problems such as self-immolation,
suicide, escape from home, forced prostitution and addiction to narcotics,"
according to a
study by the AIHRC in 2007.
At least 184 cases of self-immolation were registered by the AIHRC in 2007
against 106 in 2006.
The phenomenon is feared to have increased further in 2008, women's rights
"We have been unable to collect data and information about all incidents of
self-burning due to a number of reasons, but overall the situation is not
promising," said Homa Sultani, a researcher on the rights of women at the AIHRC
The AIHRC in Herat and Kandahar confirmed a marked increase in reported cases of
Sultani's concerns were echoed by Seema Shir Mohammadi, director of the women's
affairs department in Herat Province: "Women are increasingly paying back the
violence they receive at home and outside by self-immolation and suicide."
However, some people say the increase in the reported incidents could also
indicate the improved capacity of rights watchdogs, the media and other civil
society actors to report them.
No legal repercussions
The police and judiciary do not launch any formal
investigations to determine the causes and motivations of suicide and
self-burning by women, according to the AIHRC.
Khaled Nahiz/ IRIN
The human rights commission and other women's
rights activists want men "that force and provoke women into
self-immolation and suicide" to be brought into justice
As a result, men who force and provoke women to self-immolation and other forms
of suicide remain immune from all legal and penal repercussions.
"The government must ensure proper investigations into cases of suicide among
women and where needed bring those responsible to justice," said Sultani of the
In Afghanistan's patriarchal culture, however, it will be difficult to indict
the men who force women to commit suicide, specialists say.
"There is a culture of impunity for those who push women to self-immolation and
suicide," Sultani said.
The above article comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2008
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