Parachinar’s silent suicide problem

October 31, 2021

There has been a frightening spike in the number of female suicides in the valley. Neither the community nor the administration has been able to address it

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The local community has observed a frightening spike in the number of female suicides in the picturesque valley of Parachinar in the Kurram district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Social stigma associated with suicide has apparently resulted in families not reporting the cases to the police.

Nadia Khan (not her real name)was only 19 when she committed suicide by consuming aluminium phosphide in August. The poison is effective against grain insects, pests, rodents. It affects respiratory, metabolic and nervous systems. It is easy to source in Parachinar, an agricultural zone, and is considered a household item.

Nadia Khan had been a brilliant student at college. “In the morning, we found her lying on the floor, white bubbles coming out of her mouth. Before we could rush her to the hospital, she was gone. We buried her body without informing the police,” a family member said.

It later came to light that the family had arranged her marriage with a cousin and that she had not happy with her parents’ choice.

According to the data available from the office of the medical superintendent of the District Headquarters Hospital: “From March 2020 to October 2020, a total of 71 suicides cases were reported in the emergency, 50 of those were females. The age of those committing suicide was from 20 to 25 years.”

According to the data, “From March to September 30, 2021, a total 70 suicides cases were reported in the emergency, 53 were female.” In most cases, the victims used organic phosphorus.

In the Shi’ite community in Upper Kurram, after the death, the family shifts the body to the city mosque where an elder is responsible for bathing and cleaning the bodies. Separate arrangements are made for men and women. This is a voluntary service.

Mushtaq Hussain (not his real name) and his wife are responsible for bathing the dead before the funeral. Taking the bodies to a designated mosque for the bath is customary.

“There are six to seven female suicides among the bodies brought to the mosque every month. Families insist on privacy and do not report these cases to the police or the hospital. Due to the custom they still bring the body for a bath and to be given the ritual shroud and a coffin.”

“Mostly, arranged marriages, many between cousins, are blamed for the suicides. Among the married women who commit suicide, most are reported to have husbands who have been abroad for several years,” says Ali Afzal Afzaal, a local journalist.

Mahjabeen (not her real name) is one such example. She was, married, a mother of five and living in a joint family in Parachinar. Her husband had settled in the MiddleEast several years ago. He would send remittances to feed the entire family.

“We found her body hanging from a ceiling fan in one of the living rooms. We took the body to the DHQ Hospital for medico-legal formalities. We did not allow the doctors to perform a post mortem examination,” a family member said.

The rise in female suicide cases is an alarming trend in the valley. Neither the community nor the administration has been able to address it. The police system is still nascent in the newly merged districts. Police say they have limited experience in investigating suicides cases.

Before the merger of tribal districts, the affairs were run through Frontier Crime Regulations (FCR) introduced by the British. There was no reliable mechanism for the registration of an FIR. In 2018, under the 25th Constitutional Amendment, seven tribal districts were merged with the KP. The police have been functional, and their services have been extended to the newly merged districts.

According to the record received under the Right To Information law: “In the last two years 29 female suicides have been reported in the only police station in Parachinar City.” One of the clerks at the City police stations says that many of the his colleagues were initially not familiar with the FIR process. He says most families try to hide suicide cases from the police on account of the social stigma.

Tahir Iqbal, the Kurram district police officer, says, “When someone attempts suicide and dies, we treat it as an offence of murder. We don’t register an FIR under Section 325 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC).”

Section 325, made it a crime in 1860 to attempt suicide. The law remains in effect throughout the country. It states, “Whoever attempts to commit suicide and does any act towards the commission of such offence shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.”

Pakistan is among the 20 countries where suicide is still a crime. The punishment ranges from a fine to one to three years of imprisonment, according to a report by United for Global Mental Health (UGMH). Other countries where suicide is considered a crime include Bangladesh, Brunei, Bahamas, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nigeria, Qatar, Somalia and Tanzania.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that in 2019, the rate of female suicide in Pakistan was 4.3 per 100,000.

The federal government is trying to amend the law. On September 27, Senator Shahadat Awan introduced “The Criminal Laws Amendment Act 2021” in the Senate. It says in the PPC 1860, Section 325 shall be omitted. In the amendment bill, the senator has submitted a statement of objective and reasons. “Suicide is an act of killing oneself, most often as a result of depression or other mental illness.

According to a study, there is a suicide every 40 seconds. Five per cent of the people in the world try to kill themselves at least once during their lifetime. Around 79 per cent of suicides are in lower-middle-income countries. Despite the unique nature of the act of suicide and the reasons behind it, Section 365, incriminates the person committing it and prescribes the sentence of simple imprisonment for the term which may be extended to one year, or with fine, or both.

Suicides ought to be dealt with as a mental health issue. The objective of this amendment in PPC is to decriminalise the suicide attempt.

Haji Abid Hussain, the president of Tehreek-i-Hussaini, Parachinar, says that the main reason behind the suicides is poor education.

“At the Tehreek office, a majority of cases we deal with involve young girls who want to marry of their own will while the parents wish to marry them off to someone else,” he adds.

Muhammad Daud Khan is a radio producer. He tweets @daudpasaney

Parachinar’s silent suicide problem