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Not surprisingly, according to the head of an Afghan women’s rights group, these early marriages “cause dangerous levels of stress for women too young to cope” with the “wifely roles expected of them,” roles that more often than not include a torrent of physical and emotional abuse issued from the bride’s husband and family.
Tragically, the trauma engendered from forced child marriage has also produced an epidemic of suicides from desperate girls unable to flee their matrimonial hell. In Afghanistan’s Daikundi province alone, an investigative report by the Institute of War and Peace Reporting found that at least 200 women annually commit suicide in an effort to flee forced marriage.
While most of these young women take rat poison or insecticides or hang themselves in order to exit their turmoil, a fairly new and equally disturbing trend of suicide is taking place: self-immolation. In western Afghanistan alone 94 cases of self-immolation by young teenage brides who have been married off by their families have occurred over the past year.
Yet, as sad as it may sound, it’s not terribly surprising that these young girls feel forced to take such extreme measures to extricate themselves from family violence given the religious and cultural penalties they will suffer for even raising complaints about their plight.
In Afghanistan’s highly patriarchal society women who seek help from Afghan courts and police are often pressured by authorities to withdraw their complaints, or failing that, find themselves arrested and jailed for committing “moral crimes.”
One such case involved a 15-year-old bride named Sadat who set herself on fire after months of being beaten repeatedly by her husband and father-in-law, an act which resulted in burns over 80 percent of her body.
Prior to her self-immolation, Sadat had petitioned Afghan courts to end the violence in her home. However, the prosecutor accused Sadat of lying, demanding that she withdraw her complaints or face “dire consequences” if she refused. According to Sadat, “Such behavior left me with no choice but self-immolation because it was the only way to get rid of the violence and insults.”
Of course, it should be noted that Afghan women will find little legal relief if forced to utilize their other judicial option, their local “jirga.” These tribal assemblies of village elders, common throughout Afghanistan and Pakistan, bring a brand of Sharia justice that can be especially harsh.
An example of that justice occurred in 2011 in neighboring Pakistan when a Pakistani jirga declared that a 13-year-old girl who had been kidnapped and viciously gang raped for three days by four Muslim men to be a “black female” and thus subject to an honor killing from her family.
As AIHRC Commissioner Suraya Subhrang said, these “men make a quick decision in their own courts to kill a girl and hold a prayer for her the next day.”
Given the rising cloud of murderous deaths enveloping the women and girls of Afghanistan, the prayer rooms in Afghanistan’s mosques must be overflowing.
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