Poverty, family problems, and lack of faith are main causes of suicide in Yemen [Archives:2007/1070/Reportage]

July 23 2007

Al-Migdad Dahesh Mojali
For Yemen Times

Amera, 19, committed suicide when her father refused to let her get married to the boy she loved. According to Amera's neighbor, Amera's father's refusal to marry her off was in response to her working as a popular singer and contributing money to her family. If she got married, her family would lose their main source of livelihood.

Mohammed Al-Ramah, 37, father of four children, committed suicide to escape from police after he stabbed a companion. Mohammed Mohsen, a relative of Al-Ramah explained, “He had a good income and comfortable life and didn't commit suicide because of economic circumstances but because of drinking. While drunk he stabbed his drinking companion and then he went to his house to take a gun and money to escape from the city to his village, but when his mother refused to give him any [money], he killed himself.”

Much like any other epidemic, the occurrence of suicide in Yemen started as individual, rare cases, developing into an increasingly popular phenomenon, despite claims of many specialists and academics to the contrary. “We can't consider suicide as a phenomenon because it doesn't happen every day. We know that the rate of the suicide victims increases quickly but still it doesn't reach to the phenomenon rate,” mentioned Dr. Qaid Al-Sharjabi, sociologist at Sana'a University.

Mohammed Al-Awmari, head of the murder and aggression department agreed with Dr. Al-Sharjabi, stating, “First of all we can't say that committing suicide is a phenomenon because it doesn't happen daily.”

However, the rate of the suicide has increased substantially since the mid-1990s. Available statistics reveal that total cases of suicide in Yemen, between 1995 and 2001 reached 1,211. In addition many suicide cases are not reported, as suicide remains a taboo topic, reflecting badly on the family of the suicide committer. “It is considered a scandal and defamation for the family whereas this action (suicide), reflects the bad relationships among the family members, low education, and the shortage of faith in God. Not only that but no one will dare to get married from this family,” Dr. Al-Shargabi added.

Among methods used to commit suicide are knives, hanging, drugs and poison. Suicide committers are male, female, young and old, although according to Dr. Al-Sharjabi, suicide rates are highest among youth, particularly male youth. Additionally, Al-Awmari confirmed that suicide is committed in urban more than rural areas and in Taiz governorate more than in other governorates.

Those who have committed suicide have done so due to many reasons. These reasons can be socially, economically, or physically motivated. “For the causes of committing suicide we can say that they are relatively related to the gender whereas we find that most of the suicide cases among males occur because of economical reasons while females commit suicide because of domestic circumstances,” Al-Awmari added.

Poverty is the main cause of suicide according to researchers, who warned of the dangers of such a phenomenon spreading within a country that remains one of the poorest in the world, even with ongoing efforts to reduce poverty. With a population of 20 million, 42 percent of Yemenis are living below the poverty level of US$2 per day, according to the government.

Additionally, 13.2 percent of the total population is living just above the poverty line. The average annual individual income is US$450 and the unemployment rate was 37 percent in 2003, according to World Bank statistics.

Some cases of suicide, however, can be linked to another reason, such as Amera's case, which exemplifies the case of many female suicides that occur due to financial and emotional reasons. “We knew that Amera committed suicide because she wanted to get married to a boy but her father refused, not only to allow her to get married to that boy but also he refused the idea of marriage,” Amera's neighbor revealed. Despite such a case, Al-Awmari eliminated emotions as a key factor in the committal of suicide among females.

Another reason behind the committing of suicide, according to Dr. Al-Sharjabi, is reduction of one's belief in God and destiny. Al-Sharjabi added, “Usually there are signs indicating whether a person intends to commit suicide such as nagging, isolation and repression, but this person never takes to violation.”