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Thursday, March 19

 

"advice for others, 'use a gun and do not burn yourself. it is less painful.'

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Gulsoom
Gulsoom was unconscious for a week
Gulsoom is 17-years-old and married. Last year she tried to commit suicide - she failed.

She set fire to herself but, against the odds, survived with appalling injuries.

Her plight reflects that of a growing number of young Afghan women, campaigners say.

Driven to desperation by forced marriages and abusive husbands, more and more are seeking release through self-immolation.

Gulsoom was engaged at the age of 12. Three years later her family married her to a man aged 40 who she says was addicted to drugs.

She was then taken to Iran. Her husband beat her regularly, Gulsoom says, particularly when he had no money for heroin.

"Once after I was badly beaten by my husband, I was in bed when I heard a voice murmuring and telling me to go and set fire to myself," she says.

"I went and poured petrol on my whole body. The flames on my body lasted for minutes. After eight days I found myself conscious in bed.

"I cared about my father's dignity - that's why I tolerated everything."

'No one will marry me'

Gulsoom has had many operations since she divorced her husband and faces many more.



She's not alone - there are hundreds of other women who have tried and failed to kill themselves.

Some women do manage to end their lives, but many survive with huge burns to their faces and bodies, like Gulsoom.

In many cases they have no choice but to return to the husband and the abuse from which they sought escape.

Gulsoom looks hopelessly at her scarred hands saying her only wish now is to be made better, although she says no one will marry her again with her burnt skin.

"When I wore nice clothes my husband showed jealousness," she recalls.

Forced marriages, a culture of family violence and many other social problems are given as causes for the suicides.

Afghan women have long had to suffer violence or mysterious deaths. Even now girls are still handed over in disputes or as compensation in murder cases.

Publicising abuse

The BBC's Salmi Suhaili, who works on women-related issues, says women taking their lives is not a new phenomenon in what is traditionally a very conservative society.

Victim of self-immolation

But the rise of a civil society and a free media is helping to publicise their acts, he says.

Figures given by Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission show that more women burned themselves to death this year in the southern province of Kandahar than anywhere else in the country.

Last year, Herat in the west - where most girls marry at around 15 - was top.

Deputy minister of women's affairs Maliha Sahak says that 197 incidents of self-immolation have been recorded since March 2006, 35 of them in Kandahar province alone. A total of 69 women lost their lives.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan says that Kandahar's only hospital for women, which has 40 beds, received 29 cases of suicide in the space of two months. Twenty of those women had set themselves alight.

Independent Human Rights Commission head Sima Samar regrets that, five years after the Taleban were ousted, Afghan women are still suffering violence in its various forms.

She says suicide is the final decision for women who don't have any other way to solve their problems or escape abuse


Afghan women seek death by fire
Thirteen-year-old Marjan, who attempted suicide by burning herself alive in a hospital bed in Herat
Marjan, 13, has burns across much of her body
Increasing numbers of Afghan women are committing suicide by setting fire to themselves to escape difficult lives, according to NGOs based in the country.

They say women forced into marriage or suffering chronic abuse are killing themselves out of desperation.

Although estimates are difficult to make, one group says cases of self-immolation in the capital have doubled since last year.

Cases are said to be reported every day in the western city of Herat.

In Kabul, some 36 cases of self-immolation have been recorded this year.

Forced marriage

Delegates from countries like Bangladesh, Iran, India and Sri Lanka - which have similar female suicide rates - discussed the problem at a conference in Afghanistan on Tuesday.

Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission chief Sima Simar told the meeting: "It [self-immolation] is the final decision for women who don't have any other way to solve their problems."

One Afghan survivor, a 16-year-old girl, told the summit she had endured beatings from her drug-addicted husband, a man 25 years her senior and whom she was forced to marry.

"When he did not have access to heroin and narcotics, he tortured me. After midnight he would hit me," she said.

"That night he hit me and hit my head. Blood was coming from my nose. I asked him why he was doing it and he hit me even more."

Following the attack, she doused herself with benzene and lit a flame. Since then she has divorced her husband and undergone a series of operations.

'Act of frustration'

Experts say many such women believe they have no protection from their abusers or the cultural practices that makes their lives unbearable.

"These are young girls at their most productive ages," Ancil Adrian-Paul, a spokeswoman for NGO Medica Mondiale, told the BBC.

"These young girls are killing themselves from frustration and because they feel that there is no way out for them."

She said the choice of self-immolation may be influenced by the fact that many of the women sought shelter in Iran, where the practice is more common.

Campaigners say illiteracy and an incompetent justice system contribute to women deciding to take their own lives, because they can see no way out of their problems.

Women and girls are also often given away to settle conflicts in the country.

A recent Human Rights Watch report said many gains made by women since the fall of the Taleban had since been reversed.



 

 

 

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