Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Tajik Suicides Continue Unchecked

Young women turn to desperate measures to escape domestic abuse.
By IWPR Central Asia

In February 2018, Farizai Hujanazar, a 21-year-old from the Sangvor district in eastern Tajikistan, killed herself in her husband's family house. She had a one-year-old son and was three months pregnant.

Farizai, originally from the village of Layron, had been married to Khikmatullo Jurabekov for just two years. Her relatives claimed that she had repeatedly complained to her parents about her mistreatment at the hands of her in-laws.

Her father Hujanazar Aliev told journalists that his daughter had been unhappy ever since she had moved in with her husband’s family. He said that the last time he had spoken to Farizai had been on February 10, the day before her death, when she had called to remind them about her son's birthday was on February 16.

Farizai’s body was found on February 11 and buried the next day in accordance with Islamic traditions. But on February 16 her body was exhumed for an autopsy at the request of her father, who said he found it hard to believe she had committed suicide.

Although the results of the autopsy have not been released, the police have charged Hujanazar’s brother-in-law and mother-in-law for incitement to suicide. The investigation is still under way.

A spate of suicides attributed to abuse by in-laws have sparked a new round of debate in Tajik society about the plight of young women in unhappy marriages.

(See Tajikistan: New Concerns Over Female Suicides).

There have long been concerns about high suicide rates among young Tajik women, particularly in rural areas.

In Tajik society, a bride traditionally moves to her in-laws’ home and joins a large extended family that she is expected to serve. These conservative traditions mean she has little protection from her own relatives and is vulnerable to systematic bullying and abuse.

The latest discussions were sparked by a case in the summer of 2017 that made headlines across the country.

Rajabbi Hurshed, an 18-year-old resident of Vose district in the southern Khatlon region, poisoned herself just 40 days after her wedding.

Before she died in hospital, she claimed that her husband Zafar Pirov had abused and beaten her after accusing her of not being a virgin. A video of 24-year-old Pirov making these claims had also been uploaded online.

Pirov was subsequently convicted under Article 109 of the Criminal Code for inciting his wife to suicide and sentenced to seven years in prison.

Although domestic violence is common, talking about family problems is frowned upon and it is very rare for a daughter-in-law to make such claims. In these circumstances, young women who attempt to kill themselves are often dismissed as having suffered from mental illness.

Another case that won public attention was that of 28-year-old Alifmoh Hudoynazarova from the village of Langar. Her body was found in the river Vakhsh last summer, a month after she disappeared.

It is hard to get a clear picture of the number of deaths by suicide among young women as there are large variations in figures reported by various agencies.

But Idigul Kosimzoda, the chairman of the state committee on women and family affairs announced that the rate of suicides among young women had fallen.

He also said that suicide among this demographic was associated with emotional disorders and family problems, although in most of the cases recently discussed in the Tajik media, the young women had no history of mental health issues.

Observers say that young women are sometimes driven to take such extreme measures because family affairs are considered strictly private, with divorce particularly frowned upon.

Human rights activist Faiziniso Vohidova said that Tajik society as a whole should be concerned by such desperate acts.

 “With this, a woman protests against her husband, mother-in-law or another person who has been violence towards her. It is, in a way, a form of revenge, which is not right,” she said.

Young women needed education and support to them deal with the difficulties they might face in married life, Vohidova continued.

“With our religious values in mind, we must explain to them that it is forbidden and a great sin to take one’s own life,” she added. “The relevant authorities need to make more effort in countering this trend.”

Article 109 of the Tajik criminal code categorises inciting a person to suicide as a serious crime punishable by a prison term of between five and eight years.

But proving guilt in such cases is difficult, as family members usually try to conceal the details and avoid social condemnation.

Sociologist Safarbi Pulodova agreed that such taboos meant that women could not share their suffering at the hands of husbands or in-laws.

 “Trying to guard their honour and that of their loved ones, Tajik women refrain from talking in public about the abusive behaviour and violence against them,” she said. “This is why the men remain unpunished.”

Sabohat Homidova, a doctor, said it was tragic that young women were driven to such acts without thinking of the consequences.

"A woman dies, but the pain and grief remain in the hearts of her loved ones for the rest of their lives,” she said. “They do not think that no other woman can be as kind to their children as their own mothers.”

Tajik psychologist Mahmudshoh Kabirov said that a series of measures could help reduce the suicide rate among young married women.  

Setting up crisis centres, running public awareness campaigns in the media and ensuring young women had more access to counseling could help deal with the issue.

Tajik society, he continued, “should be more attentive to suicide prevention.

“It is necessary to pay attention to the reasons for suicide among women, mainly mental illness, slander, betrayal, family scandal, revenge, persistent violence and other factors,” Kabirov concluded.

This publication was prepared under the "Giving Voice, Driving Change - from the Borderland to the Steppes Project" implemented with the financial support of the Foreign Ministry of Norway.