Monday, November 08, 2010

Afghanistan women burning themselves alive to escape

Forced marriages, abuse and neglect is almost commonplace for the women of Afghanistan. For many women there is no easy way out from it. It is taboo to talk about any problems at home and shameful to your parents if you leave a forced marriage. Authorities turn a blind eye to the abuse and medical help for depression is difficult to access.

So for some of these women, suicide is the only way out. With indoor stoves in about every home, the easiest way to commit suicide is by burning yourself.

From the New York Times, writer Alissa Rubin visited a hospital that has treats as many as 10 burning victims a day.

The hospital here is the only medical center in Afghanistan that specifically treats victims of burning, a common form of suicide in this region, partly because the tools to do it are so readily available. Through early October, 75 women arrived with burns — most self-inflicted, others only made to look that way. That is up nearly 30 percent from last year.

But the numbers say less than the stories of the patients.

It is shameful here to admit to troubles at home, and mental illness often goes undiagnosed or untreated. Ms. Zada, the hospital staff said, probably suffered from depression. The choices for Afghan women are extraordinarily restricted: Their family is their fate. There is little chance for education, little choice about whom a woman marries, no choice at all about her role in her own house. Her primary job is to serve her husband’s family. Outside that world, she is an outcast.

“If you run away from home, you may be raped or put in jail and then sent home and then what will happen to you?” asked Rachel Reid, a researcher for Human Rights Watch who tracks violence against women.

Returned runaways are often shot or stabbed in honor killings because the families fear they have spent time unchaperoned with a man. Women and girls are still stoned to death. Those who burn themselves but survive are often relegated to grinding Cinderella existences while their husbands marry other, untainted women.

“Violence in the lives of Afghanistan’s women comes from everywhere: from her father or brother, from her husband, from her father-in-law, from her mother-in-law and sister-in-law,” said Dr. Shafiqa Eanin, a plastic surgeon at the burn hospital, which usually has at least 10 female self-immolation cases at any one time.

The most sinister burn cases are actually homicides masquerading as suicides, said doctors, nurses and human rights workers.

“We have two women here right now who were burned by their mothers-in-law and husbands,” said Dr. Arif Jalali, the hospital’s senior surgeon.

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