Experts have raised concerns about a recent serious of incidents in which Tajik women have killed themselves along with their children.
Suicide rates tend to be high amongst Tajik women, with most deaths occurring in rural areas.
According to the state committee on women and family affairs, 400 women committed suicide between 2011 and 2013. The real figure is likely to be much higher as many deaths are misreported.
Since last July, four women have tried to commit suicide with their children, two of them successfully. As a result 11 children died.
This new development is of particular concern to experts, who say that domestic abuse is a major factor driving some women to desperate measures.
In Tajikistan, a bride traditionally moves to her in-laws home and joins a large extended family. This means she has little protection from her own relatives and is vulnerable to systematic bullying and abuse. Domestic violence is common.
With divorce frowned upon and family affairs considered strictly private, young women are sometimes driven to desperate measures.
Lawmaker Abduhalim Gafforzoda, a member of the social, health and family affairs committee in the lower chamber of the Tajik parliament, said that a special commission had been set up to investigate this apparent trend.
Currently, Article 109 of the Tajik Criminal Code classifies incitement to suicide as a felony with a possible prison term of between five to eight years.
Lawyer and rights activist Fayzinisso Vohidova said that in reality, victims’ husbands or families were rarely investigated for their potential role in cases of suicide.
Women who kill themselves are usually simply labeled as mentally unstable.
In one recent case, 21-year-old Maftuna Rahmonova killed both herself and her infant son on April 2.
Maftuna’s grandmother Harambibi Rajabova told IWPR that her granddaughter repeatedly complained of abuse from her in-laws.
“She was constantly humiliated and insulted. She chose to [kill herself and her son] to ensure that her child would not suffer the same fate after her death,” Rajabova said.
In turn, the young woman’s relatives and neighbours accused her of being mentally unbalanced.
The investigation is still ongoing.
Those women who survive attempted suicide face prosecution themselves.
Parvina Abdulloeva, a 33-year-old resident of Yovon district, was rescued while trying to kill herself and her children.
The three children did not survive and she was sentenced to 18 years in jail for causing their deaths.
DENIAL OF RIGHTS
In April, Tajik research company Tahlil va Mashvarat published the results of a study of rural women carried out in cooperation with the UK charity Oxfam and the state committee on women’s affairs.
It found that women faced persistent discrimination within their families, with many denied the right to make the most basic decisions about their own lives.
The survey, which looked at 400 women in six regions of Tajikistan, showed that only 13 per cent of females had a say when it came to simple domestic issues like buying grocery items or choosing when to visit relatives.
This 13 per cent of respondents were mostly aged over 40, as younger women were awarded almost no respect.
Underage marriage and polygamy also still exist in rural areas.
Many Tajik women view divorce, which usually involves returning to the wife’s parents’ house, as deeply shameful.
“A woman comes in from pressure from both her own family and her husband’s family,” said Zarrina Kenjaeva, a psychologist working with the Vera v Buduschee women’s crisis centre. “If she divorces her husband, even her own family subjects her to violence. These incidents [of suicide] will keep occurring until our mothers and husbands become more responsive.”
In March alone, her crisis centre provided counseling to 200 women, 80 of whom were suffering from domestic violence.
Oinikhol Bobonazarova, head of the human rights NGO Perspektiva Plus, noted that the youngest and thus most junior woman in extended families was often blamed when domestic disputes arise.
“They don’t receive help and support from their relatives and so not knowing what to do, these young women see suicide as the way out,” Bobonazarova said.
“Through their decision [to take the lives of their children] these women convey how terrible their situation is,” she continued. “These women are projecting the horrors of their life onto their children. Worried about their children’s future after their own death, they decide to sacrifice what is most valuable and precious to them. It is a cry of distress.”
Lawyer and rights activist Fayzinisso Vohidova said she believed that such acts were an attempt made by desperate women to seek revenge on abusive husbands and in-laws.
“It seems that through such behaviour women can express their anger toward their husbands, parents-in-law or other family members who oppressed them,” she continued. “By these means [women] want their husbands to be prosecuted, sent to prison and punished after their deaths.”
This article was originally featured on IWPR.