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In Turkey, A Mysterious Spate Of Suicides Raises Spectre Of “Honor Killings”

Nine girls and young women reportedly committed suicide over a 10-day period this month in Batman Province, Turkey. Women’s rights activists believe some victims may have been murdered.

Hasankyef and River Dide in the Batman Region
Hasankyef and River Dide in the Batman Region
Boris Kalnoky

For more than ten years, Batman, a province in the eastern part of Turkey, and its eponymous capital city, have been known for a particularly high rate of suicide, particularly among young women. At least, so it would appear. Women's organizations, however, claim that in many cases the deaths aren't suicides – they're "honor killings."

Now the area is again making headlines after "Milliyet," a Turkish newspaper, reported that there had been nine suicides within a 10-day period, "most of them" involving young girls and women. Last week, an 11-year-old girl was discovered hanged – but did she hang herself, as is alleged, or did she get some help?

The news came just as the phenomenon in Batman seemed to be over. Up until the latest victims, there had been nine reported suicide deaths so far in 2011 as opposed to 29 in the first four months of 2000. However, this latest series demonstrates that the problem is very far from finished.

Suicide rates in the region differ considerably from the country's average. While the average rate of suicide in Turkey has risen significantly in the last ten years, from 2.5 to 4 for every 100,000 inhabitants, that is still a very low rate compared with most Western countries (in Germany, the rate is around 15 per 100,000 inhabitants). Most other Muslim countries have similarly low rates like as in Turkey.

Disguised as murders

But in the southeastern part of Turkey, the rate is twice the national average – and while more men usually commit suicide than women, in Batman it's the opposite. Noteworthy too is the age of the women – on average, 20.7 years. By comparison, in Western countries most women who commit suicide are over 45.

Women's rights activist Hülya Gülbahar is convinced that the explanation for the skewed figures is that many of Batman's "suicides' are in fact murders. The Turkish government has taken a number of steps over the last decade to reduce the number of "honor killings," including more severe punishment or no longer recognizing mitigating circumstances such as "provocation" by the victim. But this crackdown, Gülbahar believes, helps explain why more such killings are being staged as "suicides."

In some cases, Gülbahar reports, the victim is talked into killing herself "if she loves her family": she has to die anyway, and if she kills herself it means her poor father or brother will be spared a long prison sentence. Other families cut to the chase, and simply throw the victim out the window.

However, says Hatice Yilmaz of the Women's Rights Commission in Batman, some deaths may well be self-inflicted: many women in Turkey suffer from domestic violence, and sometimes it does lead them to suicide.

Read the original article in German

Photo - Senol Demir

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In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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