KHATLON REGION, Tajikistan — Sanat Ghafforova jumped into the Sirdaryo River near her home in northern Tajikistan along with her two young children after allegedly enduring abuse by her in-laws for five years.
The bodies of the 27-year-old mother and her children were found the next day, on June 30.
Prosecutors in the Sughd region have since charged Ghafforova’s mother-in-law, Mahbuba Saidolimova, with driving her to suicide, a crime punishable by up to eight years in prison.
“From the beginning of her marriage [in 2017], Ghafforova faced mistreatment by her mother-in-law and other members of her husband’s family who often verbally abused and insulted her,” prosecutor Furqat Khojazoda told reporters. “They also beat her occasionally.”
[A joint study in 2016…concluded that 97 percent of men and 72 percent of women in Tajikistan believed a woman must tolerate domestic violence in order to keep her family together.]
The in-laws deny the accusations.
Tajik courts have recently sentenced several in-laws — both men and women — for impelling their daughters-in-law to commit suicide by subjecting them to emotional and physical abuse, insults, and stirring conflict between husbands and wives.
Activists and the State Committee for Women and Family Affairs have long raised alarms about the negative roles some in-laws have played in marital crises or even the collapse of their sons’ marriages.
Women’s Center Gulrukhsor, which provides counselling, legal advice, and temporary shelter for victims of domestic violence, says about half of the women who seek help from the group blame their in-laws for most of their marital issues.
Dozens of young women in Tajikistan have taken their own lives over marital problems in recent years. Some of them, like Ghafforova, tragically ended their children’s lives, too.
In the past, law enforcement agencies often found husbands responsible for domestic violence and driving their spouses to suicide. But in recent years Tajik prosecutors have turned their attention to the roles some in-laws play in bringing deadly ends to their sons’ marriages.
In Tajikistan, where families often live in multigenerational houses, some parents get involved excessively in their sons’ marriages. Tajik tradition dictates that sons take their parents’ side in any conflict, as siding with a wife is seen as weakness.
Some of the problems in such households have been linked to financial issues. With miserable pensions and a lack of other social-welfare provisions, many elderly parents depend almost entirely on their children’s support.
It’s also not uncommon for many families to treat their daughters-in-law as unpaid maids responsible for doing household chores and taking care of their husbands and his parents.
‘For Others To Take Notice’
In the first-known criminal case targeting in-laws, the district court in Sangvor — one of the most conservative parts of the country — sentenced Zuhro Jurabekova, 63, to 5 1/2 years in prison for impelling her daughter-in-law to suicide.
The woman pleaded partially guilty in the death of 21-year-old Fariza Khujanazar, who took her own life after just two years of marriage.
Khujanazar, who had a 1-year-old son, reportedly said she could no longer cope with the insults, criticism, and humiliation she suffered at the hands of her mother-in-law.
In a rare move, the judge ordered the trial to be held in an open space with locals in attendance to “send a powerful message” to other abusive families.
That case came after the women’s committee and its regional departments reported a significant rise in the number of complaints filed by women alleging harsh treatment by their in-laws.
In the southern region of Khatlon alone, authorities said at the time that they were dealing with more than 300 such complaints.
The sentencing in Sangvor was followed by several other similar court cases, as the number has increased noticeably in the past year.
While many cases involved mothers-in-law, Emom Zabirov, a 64-year-old resident of the southern village of Zarnisor, became the first man in Tajikistan to be jailed for driving a daughter-in-law to suicide.
Gulbahor Faromarzova, 18, hanged herself after enduring “relentless criticism, nagging, and verbal abuse” from Zabirov, according to the prosecution.
Zabirov, who plead not guilty, was sentenced to five years and two months in prison.
A man in the Dusti district of Khatlon Province was imprisoned along with his son for the “cruel” treatment of his daughter-in-law, “mentally abusing her,” and “forcing her to work at a farm without a day off” in the summer heat, media reported. The woman hanged herself.
In the town of Tursunzoda, Zarkhol Mustonova was handed a five-year sentence for the emotional abuse of her daughter-in-law, Khursheda Kholmurodova, a student at a medical college. Kholmurodova, 25, took her own life by drinking a fatal dose of vinegar last year.
In the eastern district of Faizobod, the parents of Manora Abdufattoh, 25, are seeking justice for their daughter, who they believe was either killed or driven to suicide by her in-laws. Her body was found with knife wounds to her stomach and neck. Prosecutors said on July 2 that initial probes showed that she had taken her own life, but investigations continue.
Training Classes For In-Laws
According to Tajik activists, many cases of domestic abuse go unreported because women fear the stigma attached to getting a divorce.
A joint study in 2016 by the women’s committee, a local research organization, and the British group Oxfam concluded that 97 percent of men and 72 percent of women in Tajikistan believed a woman must tolerate domestic violence in order to keep her family together.
Authorities say they are working with neighborhood committees and religious figures to tackle this tragic social problem.
Women’s Center Gulrukhsor has conducted more than 70 training sessions this year involving some 700 mothers-in-laws and fathers-in-law in an effort to reduce domestic violence. The group has also trained 350 neighborhood committee members and 70 police officers who deal with domestic violence issues.
RFE/RL’s Tajik Service contributed to this report.