Self-immolations increase in Herat
The main causes of self-immolation are violence in families, poverty, drug addiction and forced and early marriages.
A number of women who attempted to kill themselves say they did so because they were unhappy with their lives and families. One such woman is Sad Gul, 18, a resident of Oba district of Herat province.
She has three small daughters and said she did not know what had happened to them since she had been admitted to the Herat Burns & Plastic Surgery hospital after settling herself on fire.
While writhing in pain from the burns on her chest, she said she was not happy with her life, which was why she tried to kill herself. She said she feared her husband’s temper and when she heard that he was a drug addict, she poured petrol on herself and lit a match.
However, hospital officials say Gul was not trying to kill herself but only wanted to make her husband and family pay attention to her problems.
Latifa, 12, who lives in Injil district of Herat province, said she was facing a lot of pressure at home which was why she tried to set herself on fire. She did not say what the pressure was that caused her to take such extreme action, but said she now regretted what she had done.
Dr. Arif Jalali, a specialist at the Herat Burns & Plastic Surgery Hospital, said Latifa suffered burns to 35 percent of her body. He also said the girl had previously told doctors she had quarrelled with her father, which is why she tried to burn herself.
Doctors say that between 50 to 55 percent of people who self-immolate go on to live, but those who suffer burns to more than 55 percent of their bodies usually die.
Jalali said the number of women setting themselves on fire had increased during the last year, but that the number of deaths due to complications arising from the burns had fallen.
He said that in 2010, the hospital received about 90 women who had self-immolated and 51 of them died, while in 2009 there were only 85 women who set themselves on fire but a greater number, 59, died. Most of those who self-immolate are between the ages of 15 and 25.
The majority of self-immolation cases, or 60 percent, came from the districts of Herat, while 27 percent came from other western provinces such as Badghis, Farah, Ghor, Nimroz and even Helmand. And 13 percent came from Herat city.
In 2009, 65 percent of the patients came from districts in Herat, 15 percent from other western provinces and 15 percent from Herat city.
During the last five years, there had been 430 self-immolation cases registered with the Herat Burns & Plastic Surgery Hospital, of which 70 percent died.
Suraya Daqiqi, head of women’s affairs at the regional office of the Human Rights Commission, said the while the number of people setting themselves on fire had fallen in Herat City, there was still a need to tackle the issue.
She said public awareness campaigns and better implemented laws to protect women from violence and exploitation were effective in decreasing the number of self-immolations.
“Self-immolation attempts are still high in the districts of Herat and other provinces, and because of a lack of access to remote areas, we still don’t know the exact number taking place.”
She said illiteracy, traditional customs and lack of access to justice due to insecurity contributed to people setting themselves on fire. She said there was also a worrying trend of women forcing other women to self-immolate.
“The investigation has revealed that men are not the only cause of self-immolation cases, but in some cases, a woman has caused another women to commit self immolation,” she said.
Maria Bashir, the attorney general in Herat, said the government was determined to investigate all forms of violence against women, particularly self-immolation cases.
Bashir is the first Afghan woman to hold the post of prosecutor in Herat and last month won a Women of Courage award in the US for her efforts to end violence against women.
She said that during the last year, 86 self-immolation cases had been investigated by her department and that the results had been sent to the court to decide if prosecution should proceed.
According to Bashir, the government is serious about prosecuting anyone who has committed a violent crime against a woman and will ensure they are not let off lightly with either a reduced sentence or presidential pardon.
A number of analysts say the phenomenon of self-immolation was brought to Herat by Afghans returning from Iran, where it has been happening much longer.
They say that the living standards in Iran are much better and so when a family returns to Afghanistan, and a husband can no longer provide for his family, or beats his wife, the woman often sets her self alight.
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