Iraq’s Arranged Marriage Suicide Surge

Sinjar’s girls are killing themselves rather than wed their cousins.

Iraqi women work in a brick factory. The work is dirty and tiring, but being outdoors covered in brick dust might be preferable to being at home with an arranged husband. (Photo: Thaier al-Sudani/Reuters)

Jun 7, 2012
Allan MacDonell is TakePart’s News + Opinion editor, with a focus on social justice.

Planning a wedding, and marriage itself, are stressful under the best of circumstances. When the nuptials are arranged in the remote and benighted northwestern Iraqi region of Sinjar, marital preparations are leading to the death of the bride-to-be at suicide rates double the norm for a place like the United States.

A New York Times journal entry from Tim Arango introduces 16-year-old Jenan Merza and her father, Barkat Hussein. When we meet the father and daughter, Barkat is standing by as Jenan lies in bed, immobilized by a gunshot wound. While together, father and daughter pretend the shooting was accidental. Separately, both concede that 16-year-old Jenan shot herself in the abdomen with her brother’s Glock pistol (the family Kalashnikov rifle proved too unwieldy) rather than go through with the type of arranged marriage that has been traditional in the area for centuries.

“We gave her to her cousin less than 20 days ago,” Barkat Hussein said. “She accepted him. Like anyone who gets married, she should be happy.”

He said he would not force her to return to her husband, who lives next door. But, he said: “I hope she will go back to him. His father is my brother.”

According to statistical estimates by the Times, as many as 50 suicides have occurred in Sinjar’s population of 350,000 this year, on pace to more than double last year’s total suicides. The true numbers are unclear, in part because honor killings of women who seek to marry outside the match arranged by their families have been lumped in with the suicides.

The culprit that locals most commonly cite to explain the suicides—more so than poverty and female insanity—is a Turkish soap opera called Forbidden Love. The show details romantic foibles of a privileged class of women that the girls of Sinjar despair of ever aspiring to join. These grander visions of marriage and romance have only come to the region since the Internet and satellite television arrived at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Across the globe, arranged and child marriages are blamed for furthering cycles of illiteracy and poverty to the detriment of individuals and entire societies.

What will it take to end arranged marriages? And are they ever right? Leave your thoughts in COMMENTS.

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