Nightly News   |  October 29, 2009

Afghan girls burn themselves to escape marriage misery

Oct. 29: Faced with what they see as insurmountable family problems, some young Afghan women are turning to self-immolation. NBC’s Adrienne Mong reports.

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announcer: alguien que amas.

>>> with thanks to david gregory , we're back here in kabul. tonight we have a powerful and emotional story about the role of women here in afghanistan. in a word, it's tough. it can be brutal. in some cases, it's a life of desperation. some women are driven to extreme measures because of a life they see without hope, but for now, for the first time, they may have a refuge, and this is a rare look at just that. our report tonight from nbc's adrian among.

>> reporter: they're mostly little children , with superficial burns, injuries from accidents. and then there's reza ghoul, at 13 still a child. but her wounds were self-inflicted. she told us she set herself on fire a year ago to escape an abusive husband almost 20 years older. he beat her when she didn't finish the housework. at this clinic in herat, the doctors trained by the humanitarian organization international said every year they see hundreds of girls like reza ghoul.

>> the first marriage is the best reason and the important reason.

>> reporter: where young wives are at the mercy of their husband and in-laws.

>> she's there only to wash, to clean, to give baby because in afghanistan, it's very important to have children. and nothing more.

>> reporter: reza ghoul suffered burns below her stomach. her kidneys still ache. shiran was a child bride , too. married two years ago when she was 15. last week she was brought to the clinic with 90% of her body covered in third degree burns. her mother-in-law insists it was a kitchen accident. but shiran told the doctor she burned herself deliberately after fighting with her mother-in-law. her own mother, still in shock, doesn't understand. she says shiran is a happy girl. but all too often is the reality is girls like shiran feel trapped and desperate.

>> to be considered like nothing, like nothing, it's very -- it's very, very difficult.

>> reporter: shiran is one of 51 girls who set themselves on fire and ended up at this clinic since march. only 13 have survived.

>> reporter: six hours after we first meet shiran, her mother and uncle rush into her room. shiran has died. across the hallway, reza ghoul is about to have physical therapy. she's expected to fully recover, and in many ways she already has. she's divorced her husband. her father's welcomed her back home, and her future is about to begin again. adrienne among, nbc news, herat,