In the US and other developed countries, suicide is usually associated with mental illness. But in China and India, often the only affliction affecting female suicide victims is a bad, no-way-out marriage. Can divorce literally save these women's lives?

According to research conducted by the awesomely named London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, in China and India, suicide kills almost as many women as complications from pregnancy and childbirth. And the reason behind many suicides may be restrictive attitudes and laws around divorce.

Researchers estimate that nearly half of the world's suicides occur in the two Asian countries, and that and that the majority of people who kill themselves there are women. In the US, divorce and low levels of education are positively correlated with suicide, but in China and India, both factors are negatively correlated with suicide. That is, Chinese and Indian women who are divorced or uneducated are less prone to suicide than their married, highly educated peers. What gives?

Traditional values around marriage — women getting married young, marrying for reasons other than love, expectations of female premarital sexual purity and post marital unquestioning sexual availability, difficulty obtaining divorce — have bumped up against modern education, say researchers. Chinese and Indian women know more about the world around them than their predecessors, and are yet pressured to participate in a system that doesn't consider their personal happiness or fulfillment. And getting out, though possible, is tough.

Officials in India have suggested that the best way to reduce suicide is restrict access to pesticides (ingesting poison is the most common way young Indians kill themselves) and offer better mental health services. But maybe the best way to keep women alive is to work to foster a world they'd want to live in. And even though it tramples on "traditional" values, that might mean destigmatizing and occasionally encouraging divorce.

[Business Week]

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