Afghanistan: Finger pointed at Karzai's judiciary for increase in women's suicides Print E-mail
 November 17, 2006



Afghan judiciary failing to keep women from suicide


KABUL -- Afghanistan's judiciary is failing to protect women from child marriage and other abuse driving them to commit suicide including by torching themselves, a regional conference said Thursday.

Better law enforcement was one of the key steps that could reverse the phenomenon, Sima Simar, head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Council (AIHRC), told reporters after the three-day meeting.

Raising awareness about women's legal rights and status in Islam, reducing poverty, and improving access to health services were other recommendations from the conference called to draw up a strategy against self-immolation and suicide, Simar told reporters.

Recommendations from the meeting of around 200 people, including government officials and activists, are to be compiled into a report.

Simar said that there were no reliable statistics on suicide among Afghan women, who were notoriously badly treated by the extremist 1996-2001 Taliban regime and during a preceding civil war between Islamist warlords.

An AIHRC survey of five provinces in the south found that 600 women committed suicide this year, most of them in the province of Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban movement now waging an insurgency.

It was not clear how many of these deaths were from self-burning, which experts have said have increased because of the influence of neighboring Iran where women also use this method of suicide.

Forced marriage and child marriage and women's awareness of their rights were major factors in self-immolation and suicide, Simar said.

The legal marrying age is 16, soon expected to be pushed up to 18, but girls as young as seven are being still made to marry, she said.

"We made the law, but we put the law on the shelf, we don't apply it."

The judiciary is also incapable of protecting women who had become increasingly aware of their rights after the fall of the Taliban, which refused them education or jobs and forced them to be completely covered in public.

"Because of the establishment of the ministry of women's affairs, and the human rights commission and different NGOs and more free media that we never had in Afghanistan, they do hear about their rights.

"But they don't find space to exercise those rights. And the judiciary system unfortunately is not in a position to respond to those needs and protect their rights so they go for passive protest, which is self-immolation and suicide."