Battered Afghan wives opt for divorce instead of suicide

Tue Jul 21, 2009 8:55pm EDT
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By Golnar Motevalli

HERAT, Afghanistan (Reuters) - After regular beatings, torture and attempted murder by her husband, 35-year-old Zahra tried to burn herself to death to escape her marriage. Then she learned of a safer option: divorce.

Zahra is among a growing number of women in Afghanistan's western Herat province who, with the help of a women's charity, have taken on patriarchal laws to get a divorce, a taboo in the devoutly Muslim, formerly Taliban-led state.

"I did not spend a single happy day with my husband ... he was not like a human being. He used to beat me every day," she said, revealing scars on her right leg and feet where her husband had deliberately given her electric shocks.

After marrying at 14, Zahra, who declined to give her full name for her own safety, said she suffered years of abuse. Then a property dispute with her in-laws turned her marriage into a full-blown nightmare.

"They wanted to kill me three or four times. Once they gave me rat poison ... I cannot go out because of the divorce and my four brothers are looking for me; they are after me to kill me."

The divorce led to her father disowning her and cost her custody of her seven sons and two daughters.

Initially her ex-husband let her keep her daughters on condition that she didn't remarry. But her financial circumstances were so dire in a country where women rarely work that she eventually remarried and when her ex-husband found out he took the daughters back.

A MAN'S LAW   Continued...

<p>Zarbakht, 22, receives treatment at the self-immolation or "khod soozi" unit at a hospital in the western Afghan city of Herat June 7, 2009. REUTERS/Mohammad Shoiab</p>