Killing them softly?

Activists fear that legal pressure on "honor killings" in Turkey has caused a rise in women's suicide rate.

Tracy Clark-Flory
May 26, 2006 11:01PM (UTC)

Rights activists suspect that the rising suicide rate among young Turkish women and girls is actually due in part to recent legal advances, according to a Reuters report. Last year, a penal code was passed that tossed out previous legal precedent that often took "honor" as a justification -- or, at least, a sympathetic impetus -- for murder. Now, these "honor killers" face life in prison. Activists suspect that family members, now dissuaded from committing "honor killings," are instead pressuring or forcing young women to kill themselves.

Most often, honor killings are committed by men against female members of their family. Pregnancy outside of marriage, an extramarital affair or even a nasty rumor can be seen as severely damaging to the family's reputation. Murder is considered the only way to clear this stain.


This year in Batman -- a southeastern region of Turkey -- 10 women and girls, all under age 23, have killed themselves. Among these cases were a 12-year-old who jumped off a building and a 14-year-old who shot herself in the head. In Van -- an eastern region of Turkey -- 20 women have already killed themselves this year. Last year, a total of 45 women committed suicide. The U.N.'s Yakin Erturk isn't convinced that the restrictions on honor killings are the cause of the surge in suicides, but told Reuters that "there are elements within their environment which compel them, and leave suicide as their only option." Whether these "elements" are family members, coercion of young women into suicide is yet unproven. According to Reuters, other theories proposed by sociologists and psychologists are violence, family pressure, economic unease and urbanization.

But many activists are sounding a chilling alarm: They are told, "If I were you I'd kill myself," activist Nilgun Yildirum told Reuters. "They think 'I've done a bad thing, my brother will go to jail because of me, I'll kill myself.'"

Tracy Clark-Flory

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