The story of 16-year-old Iraqi girl who shot herself in the abdomen using her brother’s pistol to avoid being forced into marriage to her cousin sheds light on the lengths women will go to reject forced marriage.
“I tried to kill myself,” Jenan Merza from Sinjar told the New York Times on Wednesday. “I didn’t want to get married. I was forced to get engaged.”
According to the paper, Merza’s reaction to the ancient custom of arranged marriage is becoming more common, even in the most traditional cities of Iraq.
The reporter even raised the concern of some officials who were alarmed by “a worsening epidemic of suicides”, particularly among young women being compelled to marry at a very early age.
The New York Times reported that recent access to the Internet and satellite television, which became more available after the war on Iraq in 2003, may contribute to the rise in women rejecting archaic tradition like arranged marriages.
“This has given young women glimpses of a better life, unencumbered by the traditions that have constricted women for centuries to a life of obedience and child-rearing, one devoid of romance,” the paper suggested.
One soap opera was also named as perhaps providing inspiration for freedom and romance. “In assigning blame for the rise in suicides, many people here mentioned the Turkish soap opera ‘Forbidden Love.’”
The romantic drama of the upper class, as described by the Times, is a favorite program among women in Sinjar, but it could represent an unrealistic example of life outside the city.
Merza admitted to watching the show: “I wish I had that life,” she said.
Her father, Barkat Hussein, attempted to justify his decision of arranged marriage as part of their tradition and customs. “I got married to my cousin,” he said. “I wasn’t in love with her, but we are here, living together. That’s what happens here, we marry our relatives.”
The newspaper also reported that some suicides in Iraq are actually “honor killings, in which family members kill women who commit adultery or seek to marry outside their religion or class and then cover it up by claiming suicide.”
Merza’s case echoes another case of a 16-year-old who attempted suicide to avoid marriage – except that in this case from March, the young woman succeeded.
The Moroccan girl Amina committed suicide after a judge ordered her to marry her rapist.
The court’s decision to force marry Amina her rapist was supposed to “resolve” the damage of sexual violation against her, but it only led to more suffering.
While credible statistics are difficult to find in Iraq, officials say that there have been as many as 50 suicides this year in the Siraj city of Iraq, a city of only 350,000 inhabitants.
(Written by Rana Khoury)