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Self-immolation in Afghanistan


©Anne Holmes To view archive or license images click on the photo

by Anne Holmes

Amine, pictured above, is 16 years old. She was forced to marry at the age of 14 but has many problems with her husband and his family. She doused herself with oil and set herself on fire to protest her unwanted marriage but her father says that she must return to her husband because there is no such thing as divorce in their family. She has burns over 33% of her body. She has vowed to kill herself if forced to go back.

I met a 17 year old girl who set herself on fire out of desperation because she was forced to marry a man of 60 years. I also met a nine year old girl who self-immolated after fighting with her father. She has been in the hospital for 45 days and will be sent home in five days time. Her mother sits by her side everyday and her father comes to visit as well, but everyone told me that he beats his wife at the hospital for all to see. Another young woman, 16 years, set herself on fire because she loves a boy but her family refuses to let her marry him.

Herat Regional Hospital recently opened a special ward for self-immolation victims, and receives an average of 6 cases per week. Most of them are between the ages of 13 and 22 and the majority do not survive. Many young Afghan girls are forced to marry men who are much older than them. Often they suffer physical, sexual and psychological abuses at the hands of their husbands and/or his family. These young women are also often forced into prostitution by their husbands but rarely admit this publicly because it is too shameful in Afghan society. Setting themselves on fire is all too common form of protest or suicide, but there are virtually no social services in place to help these young women out of their situations and accord them their proper rights. Most of them are forced to go back to their unwanted husbands and it is unclear what their fate is thereafter.


28 Responses to “Self-immolation in Afghanistan”

  1. Opinia ppoż says:

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  2. sameera says:

    that’s true that there are a lot of problems in Afghanistan, but why everyone is so interested to publish all about Afghanistan while such kinds of violence are all around the world. why just Afghanistan and Afghans and they don’t need your sympathy so please stop showing it, because you guys r the main reason of all the problems.

  3. Saied says:

    This is what happens when naive women are bombarded by western media and tried to liberate them (sexualize them like the westerners) without feeding them and educating them… you get this – and I swear they want this to happen to prove that their values are better then ours..

  4. Sameer Neelam says:

    Assalamualaikum rahmatullahi vabarakatuh my dear muslim brothers and sisters. This is not good. Some people told to me that most of the part in this news is not true. I pray to Allah, that it doesn’t ever happen, if it did. But, we can’t ignore the fact that the electronic media is full of news like this. We need to stop it. We need to do something that shall stop it. If there is any Afghanistani reading this comment please do reply me at .
    I badly want this to stop.

  5. nadia says:

    Dear readers

    do not believe everything that the media tell you. and media are very strong they will publish stories which are interesting, tantilsing and shame the muslim religion = do you think that these things do not happen in the west – even worse things happen in the west – the only diffeence is that for a lot of people a place like afganistan is completely foreign therefore you take an interest and this is how the newspaper make money by selling their newspaper – i have lived in afganistan and more than fifty per cent of the stories published are NOT TRUE….

  6. Only Me says:

    If this is allah in action, I want nothing to do with his cruelty. Clearly he is an evil being just up there laughing at the suffering of poor humans.

  7. Islam is the best Religion in all world…..but some peoples not fallow the Islam roles and regulation….some cases depend on luck of women an man
    in a every step of life Allah agree in every activities that’s time band say in this case Allah agree…..what should human do… in front of Allah
    don’t blame in Muslim in Islam ……
    note…. amreca is the stupied country of the world

  8. Can it get any sadder than this?

  9. Danial says:

    its so pathantic condition of islam specially afghani peoples r so illetrate they r so stupid they have no mind, i m also muslim but i alwaya go against those who think thats islam is his property, this girl looging so beautiful but one thing wrong done by her that she born in islam plus afghan family whish is equal too uneducated or beast family, i hate pathan

  10. thats really a bad thing we should be have a strong community who takes a quick and strong action against this voilence. and gives human rights to every women .every one have his/her own life and he or she want freedom..we should fight against these attacks…. and iam also making community here which will deal to help in these things in pakistan…also …

  11. mustafa says:

    what should i do i love a 19 age of girl but thier famely are not rady to acsept our marreg>

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  20. poor girl says:

    I am really not happy all this victims and I must say to this girl if she is not happy with
    her husband she can come to me I will satisfy her.

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  23. admin says:

    This post was picked up by a few other blogs and generated an interesting debate about islam which I have posted below:

    18 Responses to “Would you choose to live as a female in the Islamic world?”
    S. Weasel Says:
    August 1st, 2007 at 7:56 am
    Dear god. Worst suicide method ever.

    I think they ought to establish a custom of setting fire to the men who make them miserable. They’d be stoned or hanged or shot for it, which is no day at the beach, but it would be a lot less painful than burning to death. And it would put the real hurt where the real hurt belongs.

    BGG Says:
    August 1st, 2007 at 8:43 am
    I’m sorry I didn’t think of that. There aren’t enough medieval punishments carried out in fundamentalist Muslim societies, clearly they need to add setting fire to abusive men to the list.

    Vigilante Journalist Says:
    August 1st, 2007 at 3:51 pm
    I also visited a women’s prison where most of the inmates had killed their husbands. Women don’t know their rights and there is so little infrastructure to build social programs. Years of conflict have touched everyone’s life in some way. Poverty has pushed people to extremes. I think it is important to separate the muslim aspect from this story. The educated classes do not think or operate like this, men or women.

    S. Weasel Says:
    August 1st, 2007 at 4:57 pm
    Wow. You did? Military or journalist? Blog?

    BGG Says:
    August 1st, 2007 at 5:52 pm
    True, there have to be other factors besides religion involved but I think religion is the excuse used very commonly by Middle Eastern and Asian (maybe mainly South Asian) men to mistreat females. I can’t say I’m sad that some of the women there have murdered their husbands, but that’s just my opinion. I haven’t been to Afghanistan, the best coverage I’ve seen was a public television edition of “Independent Lens” that was filmed by a young Afghani woman, about the lives of Afghani women. It was in parts horrifying and sad, and some of the poverty was stunning.

    Vigilante Journalist Says:
    August 2nd, 2007 at 5:55 am
    I am stressing the need to separate the religion from this issue because I am tired of the Muslim bashing that goes on in the western press. Hindu women in India get treated just as badly, and yet, we never associate the religion with the behavior, nor do we see it fit to support a war in that region to “end all the injustice.” Women all over Asia suffer horrible abuses, but we don’t say that people use Buddhism to make them subservient or to traffic them into prostitution, disease, and death. It’s a sort of reflex reaction people have in the west because they have been so well conditioned to immediately make the negative reference, and condemn the religion. We hone in on the horrifying and stay fixated on it, because the mainstream press has done such a good job of vilifying the Islamic world, and I believe there is a strategic reason behind that, which is important to examine before making grand statements about an entire religious culture.

    Female circumcision is one of the greatest offenses to women, in my opinion, but it is not considered an Islamic tradition. Should our governments feel obliged to go in and change the Animist and Christian minds who carry out these terrible mutilations too? There are plenty of societies all over the world where women have no rights and suffer horrible abuses, but our governments don’t have any reason to invade those countries at the moment, so we chalk it up to cultural differences and poverty, or whatever seems benign. Tugging on emotional triggers to blind people to the facts is risky business, and only contributes to the misunderstandings, which, continue to fuel the conflict between the Muslim world and the west. It’s all part of the drumming up of support to go and “liberate” those poor women and change the Muslim mind, a dangerous approach to geopolitical diplomacy, if you ask me, and given the results, I can only conclude that this attitude has been disastrous.

    Foreign presence here is mostly not about liberating people at all. That simply is not the way superpowers operate in the world. In fact, if you take a look at the history of US activity in the region, you will find that what they do support the most is extremist governments. Secularism is the greatest threat to US foreign policy in the Middle East. A great deal of the extremism that exists in the region today, is a result of US meddling in their affairs, pushing people to extremism. Don’t forget that Kabul in the 1960’s was full of hippies and Afghan women in skirts and high heels. Don’t forget that the US secretly funded the Taliban through the Pakistani government, and the Taliban period was the harshest for women in Afghanistan in the last century without argument. So if you consider that the US helped to bring them into power, just as they did Saddam and countless others in the region, it might be time to turn the religion question on its head and separate the issues.

    Women suffer in many places, all over the earth. These women come from many different religions. Our governments want us to believe that Islam is inherently bad so they can have public support for wars in a region that is important to them. 1, 2, 3 separate statements all of which I believe are true.

    Self-immolation is a dire form of protest that is bound to take affect on people because it is so extreme. People did it during the Vietnam War because they felt they had no other means to make themselves heard. It’s a powerful statement. And the fact that it is such a problem in Afghanistan today says a lot about the dire situations many women live in.

    There are lots of local NGO’s doing what they can to educate women about their rights in Afghanistan. It’s difficult to do that because of security problems and illiteracy in women. There are even refuge centers for women who have been abused and are fleeing their families. Though they are few and far between, they exist, and it’s important to note that Muslim people, men and women alike are aware of this problem and working to change the situation. I have worked alongside mostly Afghan men, and most of them have been eager to stress that true Islam states that men and women should receive equal rights and education. I personally have experienced more direct sexism in France while working, than I have in Afghanistan. It’s probably difficult for you to imagine that, but it’s true.

    S. Weasel Says:
    August 2nd, 2007 at 8:37 am
    Well, you slobbered a bibful, as my old granny would say.

    Speaking only for myself, I have indeed bitched about Hindu suttee and Buddhists who self-immolate. And I’ve made myself all kinds of unwelcome by bitching about Christianity. I don’t like religion (and I don’t like fire). Islam, however, strikes me as especially backward and ill-suited to modernity.

    Joe Says:
    August 2nd, 2007 at 9:09 am
    Speaking as someone who owns a Quran (whose translators state that it cannot be grasped in English), I can tell you that Islam is not especially backward. It is dangerous. The forth Surah is entirely devoted to WOMEN and how to treat them. I suggest you read it BGG, and then you’ll understand why self-immolation is preferable. The portion on permission to marry slave girls has an interesting passage: “God wants to lighten your burdens for man has been created weak”.

    Joe Says:
    August 2nd, 2007 at 9:24 am
    I almost forgot, this is for the “journalist” who states that true Islam states that men and women should receive equal rights. This is a passage from the Quran: “And as for those women whose ill will you have reason to fear, admonish them; then leave them alone in bed; then beat them; and if thereupon they pay you heed, do not seek to harm them.” As to your belief that Islam (true or otherwise) stands for equal rights, well good luck with that!

    Vigilante Journalist Says:
    August 2nd, 2007 at 9:42 am
    If you read the bible, it sounds as though that religion is pretty unsuitable for modern times too. I’m not sure what basis you are using for that statement, S. Weasel. Maybe you have spent time in the Middle East as well, and had a very different experience from mine. The only thing I would repraoch you, then, is that your comment is an acusation without evidence for the rest of us to understand your perspective.

    Years ago I swore that I would never set foot in a country that forced women to wear hejab. I had a lot of prejudices against Islam as well. I thought that I would be wholly unwelcome among men as their colleague, but I was very wrong. And on the contrary, I have been afforded special privileges precisely because I am a woman.

    I am not religious at all. I am not even particularly fascinated with religion. It’s not my specialty. But after having travelled to 22 countries in my lifetime, I have found that we are all the same, and that all religions essentially seek to achieve the same goals, but somewhere along the line humanity fails those principles laid out.

    My time in the Middle East has been magic, and the day to day respect the majority of people accord eachother, the hospitality that they extend, and the general peace of people’s manner here in Afghanistan in particular, is something the West has long forgotten about, and chooses to erase from the public dialogue. I never imagined it would be like this, but how could I when the image I was given was that of a region full of terrorists trying to subjugate their women. It’s not so simply packaged as that.

    BGG Says:
    August 2nd, 2007 at 9:44 am
    VJ, we’re not in Afghanistan or Iraq to liberate women, although there was some of that “injustice” propaganda spread around in the run-up to both invasions. You have a lot of issues with the wars and I don’t mean to mix the two up…war and abuse of women by Islamic fundamentalists.

    I have no problem with why we went into Afghanistan and I wish we had finished the job properly and not divided our forces to go into Iraq. But it wasn’t about their women, and learning a lot of disturbing information about Islam has for most Americans been just incidental to the events on and after 9/11. The fact is that Islamic fundamentalists or extremists whichever is your favorite word, as well as some other religions and cultures, granted, treat women in horrendous ways. Yes I am aware of the same kinds of problems in Indian culture as well but I talked about Afghanistan, a Muslim country, because this was linked to your article. And Muslim behavior in all aspects of their lives is linked to Islam, that is what Muslims themselves tell us, that everything they do is a part of their belief system.

    Really I’m with the Weasel on this, I don’t like any organized religion, but I have seen plenty of evidence that Islam is a particularly bad one. Muslim bashing in the press? I think the majority of our mainstream media currently seem to be careful to avoid it. The only things that I’ve actually seen in the last couple of years that were heavily slanted against Islam have been 2 “they hate us so much” programs that were aired on Fox. On the flip side there was the Ted Koppel in Iran documentary that portrayed the country in a completely positive light. Another country whose locals occasionally use Islam as their excuse to bury women up to their necks and stone them to death.

    Vigilante Journalist Says:
    August 2nd, 2007 at 9:45 am
    Joe, you will find the same sort of nonesense in the old testament.

    BGG Says:
    August 2nd, 2007 at 9:55 am
    As religions go, and I’ve explained my feeling about them, but Christianity is more benign because it seems to have gone through its barbaric period and evolved. Even the pockets of kooky fundamentalists we have in this country are pretty benign and generally ridiculed. People seem to pick and choose the parts of the bible that fit into modern life, in other words Christianity has largely evolved and adapted. Christians don’t appear to take the unpleasant parts of the old testament as an instruction to live their modern lives these days. But I am not convinced at all that is true about Islam.

    Vigilante Journalist Says:
    August 2nd, 2007 at 10:10 am
    BCG: I wasn’t suggesting that the US is in Afghanistan to liberate the women. I meant to say that harping on these negative aspects of much of the Islamic world has helped to garner public support, psychologically, for its presence here. Sorry if that was not more clear.

    Such similar abuses as you site in your comment occur all over the world, in non-muslim societies, but it’s not in focus at present. Why? It’s a very valid question to investigate.

    I am going to have to leave this debate now, as I have to get back to work. I am happy to have had this live discourse. I did this story on self-immolation because it’s important and i believe in fighting for women’s rights. I don’t want it, however, to further fuel the misconceptions about Muslim people as a whole.

    There are some very positive things happening in Afghanistan. I will soon be publishing a story about women who actively participate in the public sector. I hope you check back to my website soon.

    Best wishes and thanks for all the comments.

    Vigilante Journalist Says:
    August 2nd, 2007 at 10:35 am

    Okay…just one last thing, then….I know exactly what you mean, but I think this is where lack of education, poverty, and constant warfare come into play. We are talking about developing, war torn countries here, so if you think that Christianity has “evloved,” why would Islam not do the same? And my experience has been just that, that those who have an education here do not behave as such, and generally, have very open minds about women’s participation in the workforce and so on. There is nothing to suggest that one religion is more inherently bad than the other. I am speaking from first-hand experiences, not what I have read in the Koran or whatever.

    I do think that a sort of polarization has happened in the last few decades which can be traced throughout the region, a return to fundamentalism which is new, and I believe, related to foreigners come in here and trying to change their “Muslim minds.” I can remember coming of age as a young woman and expeiencing prejudice because of my sex, having men try to make me believe that I am less than or make me see the world through their eyes, put me in my place, so to speak, and I fell into my own period of extremism, which, I thankfully got over. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to draw the analogy.

    I really have to run now, but thanks again for all the discussion.

    Joe Says:
    August 2nd, 2007 at 11:21 am
    Sorry for the late reply, VJ but here goes. Do you suppose that is why they have a New Testament? I’m surprised you refer to the Quran as “nonsense”, but of course I can’t really appreciate the Quran since it cannot be properly translated into English. Even so, I think more people should read it so they KNOW and UNDERSTAND what we are confronting worldwide. Please make sure you wear a Hejab at the very least, preferably a veil. It suits you.

    BGG Says:
    August 2nd, 2007 at 11:44 am
    VJ, if you happen to come back by – I agree that Islam could evolve, particularly as you say, where poverty and lack of education are not a problem – for instance consider the poll on Muslim attitudes that was done here I think about a month or two ago, showing a Muslim middle class here in the U.S. that appears to be adapted to the culture, satisfied here. Also over on the Towelians blog they note modern or “diet” Muslims are the equivalent of what we in the U.S. call our “silent majority.” Lots of them with moderate views. They also mentioned in relation to this topic that there are efforts at least in Pakistan that they know of, to help abused women. But for now, in many places it is not evolved and has a long way to go, as Christianity did before it became “almost” entirely adapted to modern culture (it still has a lot of problems with science but that’s another topic!).

    I wanted to add to your comment – “I did this story on self-immolation because it’s important and i believe in fighting for women’s rights. I don’t want it, however, to further fuel the misconceptions about Muslim people as a whole.” — I understand your viewpoint (although after reading a variety of your posts I know we have some large differences of opinion on certain things, but that’s fine). I look forward to your pending story on active women in Afghanistan.

    The original version can also be read here:

  24. admin says:

    Women don’t know their rights, and there is very little communication between organizations and hospitals even. For example, the girl pictured above vowed to kill herself and I asked at the hospital if there is anything that can be done to protect her and they said no. But the next day I interviewed a woman who runs a center of refuge for women like Amine and I alerted her to this particular case. She thanked me and said that she would send someone to the hospital. I hope that she follows up on it, and I hope that continued coverage of this issue will help to both inspire people to build networks to inform and protect women, and to put pressure on Afghans to address the issue properly.

  25. Kai says:

    Such a sad reality over there… I wonder what could be done to change this condition…

  26. […] reports WIB-pal Anne, aka Vigilante Journalist, from Herat, Afghanistan: Many young Afghan girls are forced to marry men who are much older than […]

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