“If I threw myself from a building, I’d break an arm or a leg, but I wanted to die, that’s why I set myself on fire, so I would die instantly.”

Forced into marriages with older men when they are as young as seven, Afghan women often choose self-immolation as the only means they have of escaping abusive husbands and in-laws. Whatever human rights gains Afghan women had achieved since the American invasion, now are disappearing as quickly as Barack Obama is turning back control of Afghanistan to the Taliban.

Self-immolation is considered taboo in their society, so one-third of women admitted to the Burns Unit in a hospital in Herat, Afghanistan, are forced to lie about how they became so badly burnt. The remaining two-thirds die, reports CNN’s Nick Paton.

One young woman, arms covered in bandages, was married off to her cousin when she was only 10 years old. Doctors say that after six years of abuse from her mother and sister-in-law, she became an opium addict.

In this case, self-immolation is seen as an act of protest — an apparent last result in fighting back against cruelty at home. “She burned herself because of domestic violence,” says her counsellor Naeema Nikzaad.

It’s taken months for Atifah to admit what happened in private, but in public, she insists she’s just another victim of an accident in the kitchen.

The burns unit is full of similar stories — there have been almost 90 suspected cases of self-immolation in the last 10 months.

The woman in Bed 19 is another silent victim who also claims to have been burnt in a cooking accident.

“Seemingly she is saying I burned with the gas but when the patient comes to the emergency room you can smell the fuel,” says Dr Ghafar Abawar.

“Self-immolation is taboo in our society… The shame of it.”

The truth would bring shame on her family, and that could mean they kill her.

One explanation is that extreme domestic violence leaves many women so powerless that this shocking bid to die is the only way they can speak out about the brutality of their lives.

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