Self-immolation on the rise among women
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
"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
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 hospital.
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
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 [http://www.aihrc.org.af/Evaluation_Rep_Gen_Sit_Wom.htm].
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 activists said.
"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 in Kabul.
The AIHRC in Herat and Kandahar confirmed a marked
increase in reported cases of self-immolation.
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
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
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.
Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), a
project the Office for the Coordination of
Humanitarian Affairs. IRIN is UN humanitarian news and
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the views of the United Nations or its agencies.
[This report does not necessarily
reflect the views of the United Nations]