Family Suicide in Pakistan: Our Collective Societal Concern
Family suicide – bluntly stated, is a mess for someone else to clear up; these are murder-suicides in which the perpetrator takes their own life plus the lives of their family members (Byard, 2005). In such cases a murder before suicide is usually committed, with the intent of saving family members from future suffering (Byard, 2005). Family suicide rates are increasing in Pakistan, though there still exists a huge divergence between actual degree of the problem and officially reported figures. Around 5,000-7,000 Pakistanis commit suicide annually. Globally, suicide ranks as the 13th leading cause of death (WHO, 2014).
The most frequently cited inciting reason behind family suicide cases is socioeconomic despair.
Recently a family suicide took place in Islamabad in which a 40 year old man, Afzal committed suicide after killing his wife and two daughters. His 12-year old son Ahmed was spared. Afzal had asked his son to wait. When the child heard gunshots he entered his home to find his family members lying in a pool of blood. Investigation revealed that Afzal was facing serious financial trouble. He had migrated from Karachi to Islamabad in search of employment. He also feared the so-called “Bhata Mafias”. Thus, he was afraid and worried for the safety and security of his family, especially of his daughters. It was later revealed that he had possessed the opinion that women cannot independently survive in society (Abbasi, 2013).
Unemployment, poverty, financial crises are ostensibly to blame for Afzal’s actions. By an official statement, 54% of the Pakistani population lives below poverty line (Tariq, Idrees, Abid, & Samin, 2014). Poverty directly affects employment opportunities, access to health and medical resources, education, level of societal crimes and political instability (Valika & Ali Jalbani, 2004).
On one end of the Stuart continuum of response to stress, are growth-promoting and risk taking behaviors in which a person takes risk without intending harm to self, leading towards positive adaptability i.e. self enhancement and adaptive behavior. On the other side of the continuum is indirectly self-destructive behavior, including criminal acts, alcohol abuse and smoking. Self injury can lead a person towards complete suicide – a maladaptive response to stress (Stuart, 2013). Afzal’s maladaptive behavior culminated in a drastic end for all of his family.
Living in a male-dominated society, Afzal held strong gender bias against women’s independence, living with the belief that men are the sole bread earners in families. Literature affirms that when a male fails to provide basic needs to his family he moves towards maladaptive behaviors (Auchter, 2010). This gender disparity might have led Afzal to take his own and his family members’ lives.
Coming towards the sociologist view of suicide, according to Durkheim, suicide occurs as a breakdown of societal cohesiveness and social harmony between individuals of society. Individual commits suicide when he couldn’t live up to the mark of the society and when moral regulations are too much or too little in his society (Wassan & Riaz, 2007). Hence, we can analyze that today in Pakistani society individuals are link with fragile social integration. The determinants are undoubtedly discriminations based on gender, religion, race, stigma and many other social issues beyond our knowledge. Thus, those determinants were clearly observed in the case of Afzal’s that forced him to commit suicide and murder his family too.
Lastly, making positive efforts at individual, community and national levels can bring change as a whole. At a personal level, sharing concerns, empathising and supporting each other can mitigate the individual’s woes. Active role of relatives in families are much needed here. Creating family harmony among the family members to deal with life stressors is again a strong intervention.
At community levels, stakeholders can play a remarkable role by identifying those families who are facing any type of crisis, establishing community and medical centers, talk groups and counselors, using media constructively, establishing family training program, can help the victims and the innocents to deal with mental stress and suicidal ideations. At national level, initiating advocacy campaigns, initiating effective surveillance system for reporting and that for identifying the root causes of such acts, working on policies & laws, implementing Millennium Developmental Goals, providing a platform for individual’s to share their concerns and to earn their living can help to eradicate family suicide from Pakistan.
To conclude, family suicides are homicide suicides in which individual kill his family together with himself. The intent of killing can be best understood in the light of Stuart continuum of self protective response and Durkheim’s view of suicide as a social phenomenon. The reasons for family suicides in Pakistan are poverty, gender biases, unemployment, and mental illness. Providing support, establishing medical and talk groups, collaborating with stake holders and finally working on root causes at individual, national and community level can safe an individual and his family members from such acts.
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