The self-immolation cases seen at the country’s only burns unit are a symptom of a bigger problem in the country, where violence against women is rife

Her incessant screams echoed in the dimly-lit hallways of the hospital – long, hard and full of pain. “Oh God, please let me die!” she gasped, pausing briefly between wails. The nurses dutifully administered shots of morphine, and applied antiseptic on her wounds. Aisha*, 19, had been brought in with 70% burns to her hands, legs and torso, allegedly in a domestic gas explosion from two weeks ago that her aunt said was accidental.

“We do not believe it was an accident. Based on our experience and the nature of her burns, this is an attempted suicide,” Zahidullah Zia, the head nurse at Afghanistan’s first and only burns unit, said.

“But she has everything; there is no reason for her to kill herself,” her 55-year-old aunt insisted, as she stood next to Aisha. No other family member, not even Aisha’s husband had come to visit her in the 12 days that she lay writhing in pain in her hospital bed.

The 35-bed unit Aisha is in could be easily missed in the vast sprawling campus of the state-run hospital in Herat province, but it is the only dedicated space in the country for women like her who have gone to drastic lengths to escape forced marriages and domestic abuse. Set up in 2007 with the aid of the US government and a French charity, it’s based in Herat because self-immolation rates are higher here and in western Afghanistan than any other part of the country.

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