The Kurds have an estimated population of 25-35 million and are the world’s largest stateless ethnic group. They are mostly spread across eastern Turkey, northern Iraq, north-east Syria, north-west Iran and southern Armenia known as ‘Kurdistan’, and they are a minority in each of these countries. Kurdish fighters have had a known reputation for being ‘fearless’ with Kurdish branch of the Iraqi armed forces named ‘Peshmerga’, which means ‘those who face death’.
In Iran, currently over 80% of the population live in poverty with absolute poverty growing from 12% to 50% from 2017 to 2019, resulting in individuals going to extreme lengths to provide for themselves and their families. One disturbing case saw two Kurdish women auction off their kidneys to see through a few more weeks. However, the most common way for families to escape poverty is to sell off their young girls to marry in exchange for money. The Kurdish culture is sexist, biased and male dominated with traditional patriarchy embedded within society, with Kurdish areas in Iran facing vast levels of forced marriage of young girls. The price paid for a bride is determined on how beautiful the girl is and how rich the husband-to-be is. One horrendous story saw an 11-year-old girl forced to marry a 90-year-old man, with her family paid only $458. The National Statistics Centre of Iran reported that in 2020, the number of child marriages increased four times in comparison to 2019. Although the legal marriage age for woman in Iran is 13 years old, girls younger than this can get married with their father’s and a judge’s approval, effectively meaning that there is no minimum age for woman to get married. In 2018, the Iranian government rejected a bill that proposed the complete ban of marriage for girls under 13 and boys under 16 for ‘contradicting with Islamic jurisdiction, current laws and social norms.’
The astronomical pressure on these girls to marry and sign the rest of their lives away can cause many to see no alternative but to take their own life. In Iran, the number of women committing suicide has doubled in the last two decades, with 1,517 women committing suicide in Iran from March 2019 to March 2020. Statistics show that Iran has the highest suicide rate for women and girls in the Middle East, with the highest rates in Kurdistan, Kermanshah and Ilam where forced marriage is most common. These statistics are likely to be representative of only minimum figures and the actual statistic is likely to be a lot higher due to families under reporting deaths out of shame. The reputation of fearless Kurds deeply engrained into their culture and how cowardly one must be to commit suicide shows the extent of fear that these children must face to take action to end their life.
For those who make it to marriage, the suffering does not end as their family’s economic status improves. Forced early marriages have horrific consequences on children’s physical, emotional and mental health. On top of being forced to marry, young girls may be raped, forced to drop out of school, be domestically abused, become pregnant at a young age and therefore as a minor with limited education and a young mother, they are forced to rely on their husbands for money. This leaves young women trapped with no escape route, and many go to extreme lengths to liberate themselves from the hardships they face.
Rice pills are a cheap, easy option for suicide with one pill able to kill a person in 24 hours. A 19-year-old girl committed suicide because her family were forcing her to marry a relative by swallowing rice pills. These pills are not legal but are in plentiful supply in herbal medicine stores, which are popular in Iran, providing easy access for those with suicidal wishes. However, some women are trapped in their homes and cannot go out to get supplies, so they have no choice but to set themselves alight and burn to death. One girl said that she has tried several times to end her life, one time pouring oil on herself and set herself alight, her brother-in-law stopped her. Girls are also often found having hung or shot themselves.
Today, women living in poverty in Kurdish Iran are forced into marriage just so their families can barely keep their heads above water. Innocent girls are having their childhoods and teenage years ripped away from them and being flung into married life full of depression, despair and under the control of their husbands. With forced marriage rates still high, the suicide endemic amongst women is not going to dwindle anytime soon.