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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 November 2006, 10:05 GMT
Afghan women seek death by fire
Thirteen-year-old Marjan, who attempted suicide by burning herself alive in a hospital bed in Herat
Marjan, 13, has burns across much of her body
Increasing numbers of Afghan women are committing suicide by setting fire to themselves to escape difficult lives, according to NGOs based in the country.

They say women forced into marriage or suffering chronic abuse are killing themselves out of desperation.

Although estimates are difficult to make, one group says cases of self-immolation in the capital have doubled since last year.

Cases are said to be reported every day in the western city of Herat.

In Kabul, some 36 cases of self-immolation have been recorded this year.

Forced marriage

Delegates from countries like Bangladesh, Iran, India and Sri Lanka - which have similar female suicide rates - discussed the problem at a conference in Afghanistan on Tuesday.

Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission chief Sima Simar told the meeting: "It [self-immolation] is the final decision for women who don't have any other way to solve their problems."

One Afghan survivor, a 16-year-old girl, told the summit she had endured beatings from her drug-addicted husband, a man 25 years her senior and whom she was forced to marry.

"When he did not have access to heroin and narcotics, he tortured me. After midnight he would hit me," she said.

"That night he hit me and hit my head. Blood was coming from my nose. I asked him why he was doing it and he hit me even more."

Following the attack, she doused herself with benzene and lit a flame. Since then she has divorced her husband and undergone a series of operations.

'Act of frustration'

Experts say many such women believe they have no protection from their abusers or the cultural practices that makes their lives unbearable.

"These are young girls at their most productive ages," Ancil Adrian-Paul, a spokeswoman for NGO Medica Mondiale, told the BBC.

"These young girls are killing themselves from frustration and because they feel that there is no way out for them."

She said the choice of self-immolation may be influenced by the fact that many of the women sought shelter in Iran, where the practice is more common.

Campaigners say illiteracy and an incompetent justice system contribute to women deciding to take their own lives, because they can see no way out of their problems.

Women and girls are also often given away to settle conflicts in the country.

A recent Human Rights Watch report said many gains made by women since the fall of the Taleban had since been reversed.

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