Behind the Lens
Did this woman, Zahara, burn herself?
The placement of her wounds suggests that she set herself on fire, but at the time of my visit she denied it. Denial is common at the hospital because patients are often afraid they will receive lesser care for self-inflicted wounds. The act of self-immolation brings shame upon the family, which is another reason women deny what is in many cases a failed suicide attempt.
How are child marriage and self-immolation connected?
More than half the women I met in the burn ward were married very young: 9, 10, or 11. It was clear they were miserable. Many of them had suffered long periods of mental trauma during their early marriages. Then they heard other women had set themselves on fire, and they saw it as a way out, or even what I see as a cry for help. Because they haven’t been educated, they don’t realize the consequences of living through the burns, of living with disfigurement. Girls are often pulled out of school as soon as they’re engaged. Keeping them in school works against both child marriage and self-immolation.