Afghan women use abortion as a way out

Birth control is taboo in Afghanistan, the country with the highest birthrate in Asia. Many women resort to abortion illegally so as to avoid being socially ostracized and to prevent the family from becoming too large.

“I swallowed medicine to abort the baby,” says Lina, which is not her real name, quietly. She does not regret her decision because she is certain she had no other choice. “My husband was jailed after being accused of being involved in an attack. I was already pregnant.”

“My family felt ashamed and said that everyone would ask where the child came from,” she adds.

Lina is in her early twenties and lives in a small village in eastern Afghanistan. Society is extremely conservative and strict rules prevail, with women usually bearing the brunt. Lina was aware that her dishonor – even if based on rumor – could have brought death to the whole family, as it would have been seen as a massive disgrace.

She told DW she knew many people who had aborted a pregnancy. “You just go to the doctor, get the right pills from the chemist and after some time the child dies.”
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Abtreibungen in Afghanistan

Geburtenkontrolle ist in Afghanistan, dem Land mit der höchsten Geburtenrate in Asien, ein Tabuthema. Viele Frauen lassen illegal abtreiben – um soziale Ausgrenzung und unerwünschten Familienzuwachs zu vermeiden.

Szene aus dem Film Stein der Geduld von Atiq Rahimi: eine junge Frau mit nach oben gewendetem Blick (Foto: Rapid Eye Movement)

“Ich habe Medikamente geschluckt um das Baby abzutreiben”, sagt Lina leise. Sie bereut ihre Entscheidung nicht, denn sie ist sicher, dass sie keine andere Wahl hatte. “Mein Mann, dem die Beteiligung an einem Anschlag vorgeworfen wurde, kam ins Gefängnis. Ich war aber vorher schwanger geworden”, erzählt die Anfang 20-Jährige. “Meine Familie hat sich sehr geschämt. ‘Jetzt werden alle fragen woher dann das Kind kommt’, haben sie gesagt”.

Lina, die eigentlich anders heißt, lebt in einem kleinen Ort in Ost-Afghanistan. Hier, in der erzkonservativen Gesellschaft, gelten strenge Regeln. Eine Unehrenhaftigkeit – selbst wenn sie, wie in Linas Fall, nur auf einem Gerücht basiert – gilt als Gesichtsverlust und ist damit ein Todesstoß für die ganze Familie. Die Leidtragenden sind meistens Frauen. Nicht wenige lösen den Konflikt durch Abtreibung: “Ich habe viele Bekannte, die das auch so machen”, sagt Lina. “Man geht einfach zum Arzt und holt sich danach die erforderlichen Tabletten aus der Apotheke. Nach einer Weile ist das Kind dann tot”. Continue reading

Afghans turn to India’s hospitals for treatment

Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi, New Delhi

Thousands of Afghans travel to India each month in search of medical treatment. Poor healthcare and mistaken treatment in Afghanistan are causing this number to grow. Hospitals have adjusted to accomodate the influx.

“The Afghan doctors diagnosed a tumor and operated right away,” said Mohammad Nabi from his bed at a hospital in Delhi, pointing to a scar on his neck. After the operation, friends had advised the 56-year-old from Balkh in northern Afghanistan to seek treatment in India. Doctors at the hospital in Delhi told him that he never had a tumor, instead merely swollen lymph nodes. “I was tricked. Unfortunately, that’s common practice in Afghanistan,” Nabi said, visibly upset.

The operation apparently took a lot out of him, and he appeared exhausted. But he could surely get help in India, Nabi said. Continue reading

Afghanen suchen Heilung in Indien

Tausende Afghanen reisen jeden Monat nach Indien um sich dort in Krankenhäusern behandeln zu lassen. Mangelhafte medizinische Versorgung und falsche Behandlungen im eigenen Land lassen die Zahl weiter wachsen.

“Die Ärzte in Afghanistan diagnostizierten einen Tumor und operierten sofort”, berichtet Mohammad Nabi aus Balkh im Norden Afghanistans. Der 56-jährige liegt in einem Krankenhausbett in Indiens Hauptstadt Delhi. Er zeigt auf eine große Narbe am Hals. Nach der Operation hatten ihm Freunde geraten, sich in Indien weiter behandeln zu lassen. Er nahm die Strapaze einer langen Reise in Kauf: “In diesem Krankenhaus haben die indischen Ärzte mir zu meinem Entsetzen klar gemacht, dass da nie ein Tumor war. Ich hatte lediglich geschwollene Lymphknoten”, sagt er und fügt betroffen hinzu: “Ich wurde betrogen. Leider ist das Gang und Gäbe in Afghanistan”. Mohammad Nabi hat inzwischen graue Haare und hört nur noch schlecht. Die Operation hat an ihm gezehrt und er wirkt sichtlich erschöpft. In Indien werde ihm nun wirklich geholfen, da ist er sich sicher. Continue reading

The Afghan girl’s cry for help

School poisonings and other psychological sicknesses

As a child, I often imagined I would die in front of my family or class mates and they would express their love to me and grieve over my dead body. This thought gave me a lot of satisfaction and even though I never really wished to be dead, just thinking I could be close to death assured me that I was loved and cared for.

Whenever I hear about a new case, where schoolgirls allegedly are poisoned I have to think about myself as a little girl too. The mysterious poisonings of school girls in Afghanistan has again become a headache for the Afghan government and worried Afghan parents. Until today, nobody really knows what is exactly behind the verdict of school going girls in Afghanistan who believe that they have been poisoned, but there is no scientific evidence for it. Having pondered over the several poisoning cases that have been reported over the recent months, I recount some of my observations of Afghan girls and women living in Afghanistan. My observations can not be seen as representative for Afghan women as a whole, but they might shed some light on the background of the strange poisonings.

School girls in Afghanistan have been under threat for a long time. Fundamental groups in the country try to hinder girls from receiving an education at all costs.

Mina, the daughter of our close family friends is like any regular girl living in Afghanistan.  Like most girls she was interested in make up and fashion. Sometimes she would steal my make up instead of asking for it; sometimes she would steal money too. Having grown up with only brothers, she was not very confident in front of others, but she knew how to defend herself in her own family. She is just a normal girl.

It was only when Mina became sick a few years back that I started to take notice of her. She was an introvert who rarely ever started a conversation. Sometimes she asked if she could sit next to me and watch me while I would work or get dressed, but she never said much. It was only when she became sick that I really began to think about what lay underneath the surface of the pretty girl with big, round eyes.

Possessed by an evil spirit

Obviously Mina was sick. Her symptoms were real, but there was no cause for it. The whole family was very worried; no one knew what sickness she had. The only thing they knew: She fainted repeatedly; she became unconscious or had weeping fits, or even started screaming for no reason. The doctor couldn’t help her, which worried her parents even more. “We brought her once to the doctor, he said she is fine. That guy must have been an amateur, can’t he see our daughter is sick?” her parents complained. As a result she was taken to different mullahs, to pray for her and heal her sickness with the help of taweez, pieces of paper with Quran verses on it.

After a while her illness had gotten to a point that she had scratches on her body and started seeing jinn, ghost-like creatures. Her family couldn’t leave her at home alone anymore, because they feared something would happen to her or she would hurt herself. Her mother spent a lot of money on healing her with the help of mullahs, but nothing worked. My dad, who is a doctor, told them, her daughter was not possessed by a ghost, she just had a depression, but no one listened. “What’s a depression? That’s what lunatics have”, was their answer. A thought most Afghans in Afghanistan share.

A lot of Afghans prefer the help of a fortune-teller or a mullah to help them with physical and psychological problems.

After a while Mina got engaged. She had chosen the groom herself and had convinced her parents by threatening to fall sick again. She was not 18 yet and it was against our family customs to marry off daughters in the family at such a young age.

But Mina got what she wanted: She had her way and all of a sudden she was healed too. No fainting anymore and no ghosts that would haunt her. From time to time she still pretended to be sick to escape the house chores, but by now no one really takes it seriously anymore. When I ask her brothers about the jinn, they laugh: “Jinn do not exist”, they reply.

Societal pressure on Afghan women

If you are a woman and you live in Afghanistan you are living a life full of restrictions and expectations that you have to cope with. Very few women are given permission by their families to go out of the house and indulge in leisure activities, but even if one does enjoy these freedoms, the Afghan society pressurizes a woman into a life full of norms and traditions that she has to live by. Speaking up against this repression is rarely an option. Fearing the sanctions, most of the women try not to get their lives in danger and just get along with the societal pressure.

Going out with friends, choosing a career of your own, choosing a life partner on your own, dressing the way you like, laughing, talking; simply everything has to be controlled by society – by the “others”. An Afghan woman would hear this one sentence the most in her life: “Mardum che bogoyan?”, “What will people say/think?” (If one acts in a certain (unwanted) behaviour). The examples mentioned above could even lead to death depending on how radicalized the environment is that you live in.  If you’re unlucky, no one is willing to marry you or your family’s name will be dishonoured, which is regarded a crime worse than death. Apart from the social consequences Afghan women are facing, four decades of war are only adding up to what most women have to go through.

What’s left to do as an Afghan woman? Either you are courageous enough to speak up and fear for your life afterwards or you shut up and find other ways to rebel. In some cases family pressure or the pressure by society becomes worse to an extent that psychological problems can occur as well.

Cry for help

One of the signs of psychological stress is the cry for help in subtle ways. I’m not a psychologist or psychiatrist but I can still say; that the psychological stress Afghan women are going through has got nothing to do with pretending to be sick. They really are sick, just not physically sick but mentally. A very high percentage of Afghan women are suffering from trauma and depression. Some studies say that 80% of all Afghan women are depressed. Why wouldn’t they be? If I, an Afghan woman who has only lived her early years in Kabul, has problems hearing fireworks and who is still scared of dark forests – why wouldn’t an Afghan woman not be depressed and psychologically instable? An Afghan woman, who is taunted by death, war and repressed by misogynist structures for decades, has every right to be mentally ill.

Today I don’t imagine to die in front of my dear ones. Ironically in my early teens I began suffering from severe anaemia and hypertension, which would make me faint a lot in school and other places. Since then I stopped wishing that physical illness should bring me the social attention I was lacking elsewhere.

The truth probably is that Afghan school girls may not be poisoned, but no one can ignore the fact that this phenomena exists. These girls need help, they are crying for help and it is our duty to hear them out. Given the fact that a whole country and every generation in this country might be traumatized and suffering from PTSD and depression, there has not been enough work done in this field at all. You can spend millions of more money to bring democracy to Afghanistan, but as long as you don’t heal their mental wounds, there will never be peace in Afghanistan.

Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi

Little relief for Afghan drug addicts

Although there have been significant eradication efforts, poppy cultivation has increased in Afghanistan. So has the number of drug addicts, especially among children and women.

“My grandmother used to give me opium when I was ill and in pain,” says Sohayla, a child drug addict who is nine years old. “Then I felt better.”

She would like to go to school but her grandmother, with whom she has lived since birth, does not allow her to.

Doctors brought her to a drug rehab center in Balkh province in northern Afghanistan and the plan is to get her off drugs for good.

She has good chances, says the center’s director Mohammad Dawood Rateb. Women and children are less likely to lapse than men because “their families usually force them to come here, whereas men are dependent on their own will.”
Patients spend an average of 45 days at the center and then staff follow up on them for about a year afterwards.

‘Drugs bring relief’

Last year, some 460 patients came to the center. Many of them are refugees who have returned from Iran and Pakistan.

But, like Sohayla, there are many opium addicts who have not been abroad. Khorma Gul is around 60 years old – she does not know exactly. “My husband told me to take opium to alleviate my pains.”

She says he is old and can no longer work. They argue frequently and she suffers from his behavior. Recently he beat her up when she was trying to protect her son; her husband said he would kill her. Then he told her to divorce him and find another husband. Continue reading

Mental illness is rampant in Afghanistan

Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi, Hussain Sirat

According to the American Medical Association, around 70 percent of the Afghan population suffers from psychological disorders. Mentally challenged people face discrimination and their families suffer.

“Mohammad! Madman!” the children cry after him. They laugh and make jokes. Mohammad does not know how to answer and shouts back angrily at his tormentors: “Not me! You!” The 16-year-old is just one among many mentally handicapped in trouble-torn Afghanistan. The authorities are not in a position to supply any reliable numbers.

Mohammad lives with his parents and two sisters in one of the poorer areas of Kabul. The whole family suffers with him – when he is restless, his mother orders him out of the house so that she can have some respite. No school will accept him because of his hereditary mental disability – and there are no special schools for people with mental illness in Afghanistan. Continue reading

“Verrückt” in Afghanistan

Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi, Hussain Sirat

Durch Jahrzehnte des Krieges leiden viele Menschen in Afghanistan unter psychischen Störungen. Geistig Behinderte werden diskriminiert. Auch die Angehörigen leiden darunter.

“Mohammad, der Verrückte!”, rufen ihm die Kinder hinterher. Sie lachen und machen Witze. Mohammad ist traurig. Er weiß nichts darauf zu antworten und ruft bitter “Selber!” zurück. Die Beleidigungen sind Alltag für den 16-Jährigen, einen von vielen geistig Behinderten in Afghanistan. Wie viele es genau in Afghanistan gibt, wissen die Behörden nicht. Eine zuverlässige Statistik existiert nicht. Psychische Erkrankungen und angeborene Behinderungen werden von vielen Afghanen gleichgesetzt. Es gibt keine gesundheitliche Aufklärung für Eltern.

Abseits der Gesellschaft

Mohammad lebt mit seinen Eltern und seinen zwei Schwestern in einem ärmlichen Viertel von Kabul. Die ganze Familie leidet mit Mohammad mit. Wenn Mohammad besonders viel Unruhe verbreitet, schickt ihn die Mutter raus ins Freie, um seinen Lärm nicht ertragen zu müssen. Keine Schule nimmt Mohammad wegen seiner geistigen Behinderung auf. Förderschulen gibt es in Afghanistan nicht. Continue reading