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January 19, 2020

Silent screams

Editorial

 
January 19, 2020

Around us, people are screaming silently for help, but none is offered. The failure to hear the screams is a key reason in the 1,300 suicides which took place in Sindh over the past five years. The number has risen sharply, notably since 2018, though more reporting on suicide cases could be a factor in this. It is also true that a large number of suicides could be going unreported as the act is considered a crime under Pakistan’s penal code and is therefore often not reported as such by families, who cover it up as an accidental death. While a million people kill themselves each year around the world according to the WHO, the increase in Sindh – notably in the poverty-hit districts of Mirpurkhas, Tharparkar and Umerkot – is disturbing. In these three districts, women and youth form the highest number of victims, though men have also taken their own lives.

Lack of income and the consequent inability to care for families is considered a key factor in these cases. Over the past five years, 107 suicides have been reported from Karachi, though the number could be notably higher since many cases may not be registered at all; 82 of the victims were men. Again, social stigma and the desire of families to protect themselves from embarrassment could be a key reason behind this. In several cases, suicides have been reported due to conflicts over marriage or other domestic issues.

Experts suggest poverty alleviation is a key factor to reducing the suicide rate by bringing down the desperation level of people who feel they have no choice but to take their own lives. There is at present no social safety net in place for people who live in poverty or in constant danger of falling below the poverty line. Programmes such as the Benazir Income Support Programme, which now runs under the Ehsaas Programme umbrella, can cater to only limited numbers. Issues such as conditions at hospitals, the rising price of medicines, the cost of education and most recently the unprecedented inflation in food prices makes people even more vulnerable. The government needs to think. A country where citizens kill themselves so widely cannot be a state whose prime minister constantly compares it to welfare states. Awareness raising about suicide, help-lines for potential victims and programmes that can make family members aware of what signs to watch out for could also help bring down the rate and enable people to possibly gain a little more happiness.