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Surge in female suicides linked to forced marriages, Taliban violence, and arrests

Documenting 195 cases of suicide since April 2022, AW has observed a rise in female suicides since the Taliban seized power in 2021, and identified a pattern suggesting that ethnic minorities appear to make up a disproportionate share of the reported cases


26 Feb 2024

Photo: © Afghan Witness, 2022

WARNING: This report contains links to graphic imagery, reference to suicide, and descriptions of physical and sexual abuse

There have been at least 195 cases of suicide in Afghanistan since April 2022, according to data compiled by AW[1]. Suicide cases in Afghanistan appear to rise each year, possibly linked to the escalating economic crisis, unemployment, domestic violence, forced marriage, mental health disorders, Taliban restrictions, and Taliban-related violence and human rights violations. 


AW observations in reported suicides: April 2022-today

AW found that suicides were most often recorded among Afghan women, but that they were also common among men, as well as female and male minors, recording an age range of 10 to 72. Although hanging was the post prevalent method of suicide recorded by AW, other methods recorded include gunshot injuries, poisonings, narcotics overdoses, self-immolation, and throwing oneself to one’s death. However, there were a number of cases in which the age, sex of the victim, and means of self-harm were not provided. 


While unemployment appears to significantly contribute to suicide among young Afghan men, causes of suicides among women are multifaceted. In reports, female suicides are frequently listed as stemming from domestic violence, an increase in early and forced marriages, Taliban-related violence such as rape, detention, and Taliban-imposed restrictions – including bans on education and the closure of universities and schools. AW analysts also observed a recent trend of women committing suicide following their release from Taliban prisons in Kabul and Balkh.


It is highly likely that AW data does not capture a considerable share of suicide incidents, due to societal stigma and limited reporting of individual events, whereas media outlets on the ground have provided significantly higher figures. For example, Etilaatroz reported 213 suicides between 21 April 2022 and 21 April 2023 alone. AW analysts were unable to independently verify this figure, however it too likely also represents an undercount of the true scale of the problem.


In this report, Etilaatroz listed Faryab, the predominantly Uzbek province, as the location with the highest rates of suicide in Afghanistan; this aligns with data collected by AW. The impact on Faryab province was further highlighted by the former provincial governor, who told Zawia News there had been 22 suicide cases in the province between 22 May 2023 and 21 June 2023.

Suicides related to early and forced marriage

Suicides are notoriously underreported, and those among minors in Afghanistan are particularly difficult to monitor. However, as forced marriages are on the rise in Afghanistan as a result of economic pressure (according to the United States Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction), it is likely that related suicides are similarly witnessing an uptick.

Accordingly, AW has tracked claims of 11 suicides related to forced marriages of underage girls since April 2022. On 20 January 2024, Zan TV posted on X (formerly Twitter): “Local sources in Baghlan province say that a young girl in the Deh Salah district of the province committed suicide due to forced marriage.” The victim was 17 and had been married to a 37-year-old man four months prior. It was further reported that she had previously made several unsuccessful attempts on her life, following the marriage. Not two weeks later, on 2 February 2024, a local journalist in Faryab posted about the suicide of another 17-year-old girl on Facebook. According to Rokhshana Media, which also reported on the incident, this girl committed suicide after strongly opposing a marriage that her father approved.

Suicides related to Taliban violence and arrests

AW has also observed a recent trend in claims of female suicides relating to Taliban violence, following arrests and detention. In the wake of the Taliban's campaign arresting women and girls for noncompliance with the hijab in January 2024, AW recorded various [WARNING: GRAPHIC] claims of suicide, which were supported by on the ground reports gathered by credible organisations, relating to experiences of Taliban violence and imprisonment. On 28 January 2024 several social media accounts also shared [WARNING: GRAPHIC] pictures of women who had been released from Taliban prisons with signs of torture. 


Activist Bibi Gul, who used the pseudonym Zahra Mohammadi, underwent a similar experience before committing suicide on 22 December 2023. According to the Unity and Solidarity of Afghanistan Women’s Movement, the organisation with which she was affiliated, Bibi Gul initially arrested in September 2021 and had been contemplating suicide ever since.

Also in connection to women’s detentions, on 28 January 2024, Exile TV posted a video of a woman on X, a mother of a one-year-old, who was allegedly arrested by the Taliban and sexually assaulted. She said that she had contemplated suicide as a result of the trauma that she suffered, but refrained for the sake of her child. She added, however, that if she were to follow through on her thoughts of self harm, that she would kill both herself and her child. 

Sexual assault and gender-based violence in the Taliban’s female detention centres has been well reported by Afghan media. On 7 February 2024, 8am media reported on women’s experience in Taliban detention centres in three northeastern provinces. This report detailed sexual violence including gangrape, and hitting women’s genitals with pipes and brooms. The same outlet reported on similar issues in female detention centres in Samangan, Faryab and Jowzjan provinces in May 2023, alleging that 16 out of 90 women who were imprisoned became pregnant as a result of repeated sexual assault.

Societal stigma leads to underreporting of suicide and its motivations 

While motives for suicide vary, open source information often lists the rationale for reported suicides as "unknown. Based on AW data, domestic violence appears to be the most common driver of suicides among women in Afghanistan. However, many reports, including those in the media, also point to "family disputes," "family problems," and "mental health issues". According to 8am media, families in Afghanistan often deny allegations of suicide, to avoid cultural stigmas, whilst others request further investigations and autopsies to determine their relative’s cause of death. Crucially, there have also been reports that the Taliban has prevented autopsies and further investigations from taking place in instances of probable suicide.


Overall there are investigative and forensic gaps concerning open-source suicide reports at large in Afghanistan. Cultural and social stigmas surrounding suicide lead to a culture of secrecy, which further benefits from a lack of Taliban cooperation in providing data on the incidence of suicide. Past alleged suicide cases also reveal possible Taliban interference, hindering autopsies and forensic evaluations. Family involvement in the aftermath of Taliban detentions and related violence, for the purpose of restoring honour to the family must also be taken into account. This contextual basis, coupled with insufficient evidence, makes it challenging to ascertain whether individual cases are femicides, murders, or actual suicides. Regardless, the primary victims of these ongoing cases are most often women, including female minors.

The increasing levels of women's suicides or suicidal inclinations, particularly correlating with Taliban violence, imprisonment, and restrictions, suggest that women are suffering at the hands of the de facto authorities, and continue to suffer physical and psychological injuries following their release.  


[1] AW began monitoring suicides in Afghanistan in April 2022. 

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