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Pain of Afghan suicide women
By Payenda Sargand
BBC News, Kabul

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.

When I wore nice clothes my husband showed jealousness
Gulsoom, 17

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.

Changing mindsets

The commission has been working with the Medica Mondiale agency to try to overcome cultural obstacles and give women more of a voice.

Campaigners say violence against women must not remain hidden or it will not stop.

Deputy women's minister Maliha Sahak points to last year's protocol involving many Afghan ministries, the Supreme Court and the human rights commission.

It was passed with President Hamid Karzai's approval and banned the marriage of a woman if she is under 18 years old.

She says another law is in the pipeline which will require agreement from both man and woman for their wedding to be legal.

The women's ministry is to mount an awareness campaign targeting men in an attempt to reduce the violence.

After decades of war, Afghanistan's civil society is still in its infancy.

Those trying to end violence against women face many years of struggle to change fundamental elements of tradition and culture, as well as so-called Afghan dignity.

500 Women Commit Suicide Per Day In China


Smith Grills State Department Official for Lackluster Response
Washington, D.C. — A Congressional hearing reviewed the “1999 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices” today, uncovering a disturbing trend of increasing human rights violations. The report, released annually by the State Department, analyzed human rights abuses in countries worldwide.
Congressman Chris Smith, Chairman of the International Operations and Human Rights Sub-committee, noted that the report downplayed pertinent  information on the behavior of some nations to avoid conflict, yet singled out other nations involved, despite their political relationship with the Clinton Administration. Smith said that sadly, the Clinton Administration ignores the compelling information in its own report as it pursues bi-lateral agreements with many countries - especially China..

“The China report does not attempt to conceal the deterioration of the human rights situation in China--- more arrests of political and religious dissenters, more bad news for the people of Tibet and East Turkestan, more evidence of forced labor and complicity of government officials in sex trafficking, more forced abortions and sterilizations,” said Smith, who has held numerous hearings on human rights violations in many nations, including several regarding China. 

“China’s horrific abuse of women comes to the forefront,” said Smith. “Fifty-six percent of female suicides world-wide occur in China. That is roughly 500 women a day who chose to die instead of suffering forced abortions and manual labor thrust upon them against their will. This tyranny will continue as long as America turns a blind eye. This cannot help but lend support to those of us who believe that six years of the Administration’s “constructive engagement” policy have harmed rather than helped the long-suffering people of China,” added Smith. 

Smith focused like a laser on a ridiculous segment of the report attributing China’s high female suicide rate to “the availability of highly toxic pesticides in rural areas” and pressed Assistant Secretary Of State Harold Koh to explain the absurdity of the conclusion. Koh failed to do so. Smith also pointed out that despite holding no punches in regards to China, the report, much like last year’s, continues to downplay atrocities in other nations to avoid putting strains on diplomatic relations. 

“A  careful reading of the Cambodia report makes clear that the government’s human rights violations during 1999 were numerous and severe, the first few paragraphs of the report contain a number of positive statements about the government — most of them having little or nothing to do with human rights --- which tend to deflect the reader’s attention from the government’s egregious human rights record,” said Smith. “The Laos report is noteworthy not for what it says but for what it omits.  Among the most disturbing events in that troubled country during 1999 was the disappearance of  two United States citizens, both members of the Hmong ethnic minority, near the border between Thailand and Laos. Yet despite eyewitness reports that the two men crossed over into Laos with a Lao government official, the Country Report states only that there were “conflicting reports” of the incident,” added Smith.
Smith also cited weak reporting in the Vietnam report which states facts on a wide range of human rights abuses, but follows each terrible fact with a disclaimer claiming that conditions are improving. Yet since the United States have business interests with these small countries, the reports refuse to accurately critique these nations.
“I have often quoted the remarks of a witness who represented Amnesty International at the first hearing of this Subcommittee under my chairmanship,” said Smith. “He stated that “human rights is an island off the mainland of U.S. foreign policy” — unconnected to anything else.  Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go in order to integrate human rights into the mainstream of our foreign policy.  We should start by denying Permanent Most Favored Nation status to China or any other government that systematically brutalizes its own people,” concluded Smith.


Meanwhile, studies of women in the South Asian diaspora suggest the vulnerability of married women in immigrant communities, compared to native women. These studies reveal a strong link between marital and family problems and a wide range of health problems among Indians overseas.

Results of a recent study by Alison Karasz of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, in NY, reported in Psychology & Developing Societies, Vol. 17, No. 2, 161-180 (2005), looked at marriage depression and illness among South Asian Americans. Conclusion: problems associated with marriage roles, including marital conflict, domestic overwork and isolation were seen as extremely serious and associated with mental health problems.

In a study on racism and mental health, Shaheen Ali, Co-Director of Across Boundaries: An Ethnoracial Mental Health Centre confirms that racism is a mental health issue. "Differences in health among people of color compared with white people, do not result from biological or genetic factors but from social, political and economic inequities...those on the receiving end of racism face higher risk of depression and suicide.

Among the first to conduct studies on suicide among Indian-Americans were S.P. Patel and A.C. Gaw of the Department of Psychiatry, Boston University Medical Center Hospital. They conducted a survey in 1995 “to increase awareness of suicide risk and to better understand social and psychological factors contributing to suicide in this group” of American immigrants.

Their findings: 1. Suicide rates of young women immigrants from the Indian subcontinent are consistently higher than those of their male counterparts and of young women in the indigenous populations of the countries to which they immigrate. 2. Use of violent methods such as hanging, burning, and poisoning is common among both men and women. Suicide rates among older men in this immigrant group have been reported to be low, although reports are less consistent 3.A disproportionately higher number of immigrant Hindus commits suicide. 4.Family conflict appears to be a precipitating factor in many suicides, whereas mental illness is rarely cited as a cause. Depression, anxiety, and domestic violence may contribute to the high rates.

The researchers conclude that more research is needed on the epidemiology of psychiatric illnesses and their contribution to suicide in this group.

When the "perceived causes of suicide attempts" were examined by Dinesh Bhugra in 180 ethnic South Asian women living in the London area, the three factors endorsed most frequently and strongly as causes of suicide attempts were violence by the husband, being trapped in an unhappy family situation, and depression.

Bhugra, of the Institute of Psychiatry, London, whose interests include cultural factors in the genesis and management of psychiatric disorders, outlined the reasons for the increase in attempted suicide in South Asian women: Gender-role expectations; Alienation from culture, especially one’s own but also from that of the majority population; Family conflict, e.g. with parents, partner; Domestic violence: by male members; Alcohol use in the family: by male members; Cultural conflict: liberal views v. traditional setting; Psychological distress expressed in the individual’s alienation and rejection of cultural values; Poor self-esteem.

In Fiji, Indo-Fijians who make up almost half the population of Fiji are five times more likely than indigenous Fijians to attempt or commit suicide, recent police statistics indicate. This trend has been consistent for at least five years.

Elsewhere in the diaspora, suicide and attempted suicide (Para suicide) have been receiving attention from mental health experts.

A Malaysian study by S.Ong and Y.K.Leng reports that both suicides and attempted suicides were heavily concentrated among the Indian ethnic group in Kuala Lumpur. They note that the percentage distribution by ethnicity of suicides and attempted suicides recorded by University Hospital was in stark contrast to the distribution of the population: The Indians form ten percent of the population but account for 30% of the suicides and 48% of the attempted suicides there.

In a study entitled "Suicide by poisoning" by G. Hutchinson at the Department of Medicine, General Hospital, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, the author states that suicide rates were 54.4 % among PIOs, 42% among Afro-Caribbeans, 3% among people of mixed ethnic origin and 0.6% for Caucasians.

Furthermore the study reveals that "Lovers' quarrels" (35.4% of cases), psychiatric illness (27.8% of cases) and family disputes (27% of cases) were reported as the most frequent precipitating events in suicide. PIOs predominated in those suicides precipitated by "lovers' quarrels" and family disputes, accounting for 63.2% and 58.9% of these cases, respectively; while for those suicides in which psychiatric illnesses was the main precipitating event, Africans were represented by 53.3% and PIOs 45.3%. Depression was the most common psychiatric illness diagnosed. Paraquat was the most popular poison used in 63.7% of the suicidal cases, and other agrochemicals were used in 20% of cases.

It should be noted that while much of the previous research among Indians overseas has emphasized social and economic outcomes, only recently is attention being paid to psychological well-being or mental health. It is being recognized that, at an individual level, socio-economic stress, thwarted aspirations, racism, acculturation, culture clash with parents, loss of religious affiliation, difficulty with identity formation, and loss of family and community support may have effects on suicide risk.

Research among NRIs and PIOs populations suggest that a possible explanation for more negative impacts on women is that the decision to migrate is often made by the man. One study notes that in this case, ‘the woman is less aware of, and less prepared for, the difficulties that may be encountered in the country of resettlement’ . Other research indicates a reversed gender dynamic, with many immigrant women gaining more personal freedoms with migration, which in turn makes them less vulnerable to depression and suicidality.

Researchers also note that the effects of migration are likely to be mediated by a climate of xenophobia thereby heightening risk for suicidality among foreign- born nationals in countries of resettlement where racism and discrimination are. The impact of ‘cultural conflict’ compounded by intergenerational differences is noted particularly for young people of immigrant parents. One study reported that 76% of a sample of Asian American youths indicated that conflict with parents was a contributor and a ‘disciplinary crisis’ was the most common precipitant of a suicide attempt.

While suicidologists have tended to focus on suicide mortality, which is typically male and epidemiologically quite rare, non-fatal suicidal behaviour, which is typically engaged in by more women, is actually more common. Bhugra observes that the significance of marital violence as a specific factor in women’s suicidality is often obscured within the general and often vague categories of ‘family conflict’ and ‘marriage difficulties’.

Several studies of South Asian women in the UK note that the factors endorsed most frequently and strongly as probable precursors of suicidal behaviour are physical and sexual violence by the husband. Domestic violence was seen to be the dominant risk factor followed by ‘relationship problems’ with sexual assault accounting for 5% of responses.

Finally, S. Mehta of the Department of Psychology, Auburn University, conducted an interesting study on “Relationship between acculturation and mental health for Asian Indian immigrants in the United States”. Mehta looked at the relationship among several social and demographic variables, three aspects of acculturation (perception of acceptance, cultural orientation, and language usage), and three aspects of mental health (psychological distress, acculturative stress, and satisfaction). Conclusion: acceptance and cultural orientation play crucial roles in mental health, independent of various social and demographic variables. Feeling accepted by the host society and being involved with Americans and U.S. culture were related to better mental health.


The Hindu community in Trinidad was perhaps the first in the diaspora to establish a suicide prevention center at the El Sorroco Mandir in San Juan, Trinidad -- The National Hindu Lifeline/Suicide Prevention Center (NHL/SPC).

Dr. Hari D. Maharajh, specialist in psychiatry and nervous disorders, says the causes of suicide and attempted suicide in Trinidad and Tobago are lover's quarrels, interpersonal problems, cultural rigidity, marginalization, ethnic disadvantages, poverty, unemployment and family depression. "Alcoholism and drug abuse are also major contributory factors ...Why has the government been dragging its feet on this major social problem?" he challenged.

Dr. Maharajh feels that suicide is a national dilemma which has destroyed some of Trinidad's most vital young people in the prime of life. He said that there are definite ethnic differences, and all the evidence indicates that young East Indian females are more likely to attempt suicide than any other group.

Dr. John Bharath, Public Relations Officer of the suicide prevention center and a former member of Parliament, said that approximately 500 persons are being counselled every month. "I cannot venture to say how many of them would have committed suicide, but what I can say is that the majority of them came back to us expressing deep satisfaction and gratitude for putting back into their minds and hearts a sense of self-worth, love, a caring disposition and human dignity once again." Davan Ramkisson, a beneficiary of the center, said that because of the assistance he received, "I am putting my life back into order."

Explains Pundit Rambachan: "The Hindu woman is very apprehensive when it comes to speaking about her family problems or difficulties in her marriage...We thought it would be very apt if we opened a suicide prevention and counseling center in a Hindu temple, where a Hindu can feel safe in coming to a religious organization they are familiar with and see familiar faces-for example their family priest, like myself. We don't treat only Hindus or Indians. We treat people of every creed and every culture."


The Canadian Situation

  • The suicide death rate for teenage men has increased four-fold from 5.3 to 23.0 per 100,000 between 1960 and 1991.

  • The suicide rate for young women also increased from 0.9 to 4 per 100,000 between 1960 and 1991.

  • The rate of suicide for youth 10 to 14 years of age almost doubled over the last 30 years from 0.6 per 100,000 to 2.4 per 100,000.

  • In 1990, suicide was the second leading cause of death for both teenage men and women.


  • In 1989-90 the second leading cause of hospitalization for young women aged 15 to 19 was attempted suicide.

  • Girls 10 to 14 years of age are hospitalized for attempted suicide at a rate five times that of boys.

  • Teenage women are hospitalized for attempted suicide at twice the rate for young men.

Risk Factors

  • There are many indications that youth are having problems within relationships.

  • Fifty-three percent of young women and 37% of young men rate their lives as stressful.

  • According to several national and provincial surveys, a substantial number of young people are lonely, depressed, emotionally distressed or not happy about their lives.

  • Forty-three percent of young women 12 to 18 years of age state that they feel really depressed once a month compared to 23% of young men.

  • According to a 1990 national survey, approximately 38% of young people 13 to 16 years of age reported that they felt good about themselves.

  • Young women were less likely to feel good about themselves, 30% compared to 45% of young men.

  • Exact figures are not available regarding the number of young people who live on the streets.

  • According to one study, more than 60% of young people living on the streets in Canada leave home because of violence and abuse; on the street this violence continues.

  • Approximately 33% of boys 13 to 16 years reported that they felt self confident compared to 22% of young girls.

Sex Differences

  • In 1991 the rate of suicide for young men was six times greater than for young women.

  • Young girls are more likely to attempt suicide than young boys.

  • According to a Quebec child mental health survey, 10% of young girls and 4% of young boys 12 to 14 years of age had considered suicide in the 6 months before the survey.

  • A survey in British Columbia revealed that 20% of grade 8 girls and 13% of grade 8 boys had considered suicide in the past year.

Aboriginal Children & Youth

  • The suicide rate among Indian youth was five times that of the total Canadian population.

  • Large proportions of Aboriginal people identified unemployment, alcohol, drug use, family violence, sexual abuse and suicide as significant social problems in their communities.

The Challenge

  • We must rethink the way we work with and serve our children and youth. They are telling us that they need support, recognition, respect, and hope for the future.

Suicide and young women
  • Between 1979 and 2001, suicide was the most common form of drug-related poisoning death, accounting for nearly two-thirds of these deaths over the period studied (Office for National Statistics, 2003) .

  • The number and rate of suicides amongst 15 - 34 year old women has remained relatively static over the last 10 years, in general varying from 4 to 6 per 100,000 (ONS, GROS,GRONI).

  • In Scotland, the number of females suicides within the 25 - 34 year old age group over the last 10 years have decreased by 32% (GROS).

  • In the Republic of Ireland the number has increased by 100% - from 7 to 14. It is important to note that we are dealing with very small numbers (CSO).

  • Young women aged 15-24 who are of South Asian origin (i.e. Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi) show a very high risk of dying by suicide in comparison with the average risk for women living in England and Wales (Karmi et al, Soni Raleigh & Balarajan, 1992).

  • Young women born in the Indian sub-continent also show higher rates of attempted suicide (Merrill & Owens) where culture conflict, family and marital problems are commonly cited problems (Soni Raleigh & Balarajan, 1992).

Birth links in suicides.
People born in spring and early summer are most likely to kill themselves a survey reveals.
   Women born in April to June are 29.6 per cent more likely to take their own lives than those born in autumn and early winter, the study of 26,915 suicides in England and Wales shows.
   For men the figure is 13.7 per cent, it was reported in the British Journal of Psychiatry.
   The study could help to understand how factors such as sunlight and temperature can trigger mental health problems.
   Previous research showed alcoholism is most likely in people born in spring and early summer. Most suicides are committed in May.
             The Sun: May 2, 2006

Breast Implants link to suicides
SUICIDE is more common among women with breast implants, a study has revealed.
          But women who have had such surgery are also less likely to die from breast cancer or heart disease, the research found.
          The conclusions were based on a study of 24.600 women who had the breast operations for cosmetic reasons. The suicide rate among these women was 73 per cent higher than in the general population.
        Among 16,000 women who had had plastic surgery other than breast enlargement, the suicide rate was also higher - this time 55 per cent above average, the team from Laval University, Ontario, found.
        Previous studies discovered that women who had implants were more likely to suffer fromlow self esteem and mental illnesses, such as depression, said Dr Jacques Brisson, who led the research.
        He said: "Sound medical practice should encourage surgeons to pay particular attention to the reasons why women want to undergo breast augmentation."
         Overall, the study, which wascarried out over 15 years, found a lower mortality rate among women with breast implants.
           Dr Brisson said lower rates of breast cancer and heart disease were probably because the women had more money to spend and better health, according to a report in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
                                                               The METRO Sept 21 2006

It has often been suggested that women choose less lethal means (poisons overdoses etc) than men do. This could (in part) explain the different rates of completed suicides, and the different rates of suicide attempts.However, unlike their sisters elsewhere in the world, women in the US now choose a firearm as their most common method.

There appears to be an increased risk of suicide among women with alcohol or substance abuse problems. The use of alcohol at the time of a suicide may reflect a substance abuse disorder, the need to be intoxicated to follow through, or the impulsivity associated with intoxication.

Women use doctors and mental health services far more than men do.This being so they have a greater likelihood of being treated for depression - and other contributory illnesses - And so, are therefor at a much lower risk of suicide.