Scores of women in Pakistan are severely disfigured by acid attacks every year. Most of the recent cases seem to be attacks that occured after incidences of rejection of undesirable suitors by either the victim or her family. This deed is deemed worthy of subjecting the woman to a lifetime of despair for the purported insult to the man. It is time for the government of Pakistan and local communities to acknowledge these actions as crimes and to act decisively to prevent the continuing murder and disfiguring of thousands of girls and women. Such crimes should be swiftly prosecuted in order to serve as a deterrent in view of the devastating effect on the victims physical and psychological well being.
Perhaps one reason why this phenomenon is so common in Pakistan seems to be the ready accessibility of cheap acid. Sulphuric acid is often used in car batteries and jewellers commonly use nitric acid to polish precious metals. Dilute forms of acids are also used to treat cotton seeds, making it readily accessible even in rural areas. Concentrated acids are frequently used to sterilise kitchens and bathrooms. So no eyebrows are raised when someone goes to a shop wanting to purchase it. With just a few rupees, anyone can buy a weapon that can ruin another person’s life in just a few seconds.
Shahnaz Bokhari, chief coordinator and clinical psychologist at the Progressive Women's Association in Rawalpindi, says her organization has counted 8,000 victims burned by acid as well as kerosene and stoves since 1994 just from Rawalpindi, Islamabad and a 200-mile radius, not Pakistan as a whole. The Aurat Foundation has documented 53 cases of acid throwing in 2009 in Pakistan
(42 in Punjab; 9 in Sindh; 1 in NWFP; 0 in Balochistan; 1 in Islamabad). The scenario in 2010 seems to be no better. Women's activists believe that only 30% of acid cases are reported.
The effects of acid attacks are life-changing if the victim survives the attack. Acid burns through eyes, skin tissue, and bone. Usually, the victims are left blind and with permanent scar tissue. Their bones are often fused together - jawbones sealed tight, chins locked to chests, hands left permanently contorted in the position they held as they tried to deflect the splash. The psychological scars are even worse. Depression, anxiety and shame would be part of the emotional aftermath of any scarring injury. Victims of acid attacks are also often ostracized by their communities and even held responsible for incurring the attack they suffered. When the victims are married, their children are forced to assume their mother’s caretaker roles, and if the husband leaves, they have to shoulder the heavy burden of caring for the family as well. If the victims are not married, they face a lifetime of dependency on the charity of their parents and community and continued vulnerability to further attacks.
• In a case of atrocities against women, Ilyas, threw acid on the face of his wife, Yasmin (30) in Sector 15-B of Buffer Zone area Saturday in Karachi, causing 30% burns. (Karachi, 24 May, 2010)
• The Shah Faisal police arrested a man for allegedly throwing acid on his 35-year-old wife. According to details, Irshad Mushtaq threw acid on his wife Sultana, mother of five, on May 27 at their house in Shah Faisal Colony, injuring her face and partially affecting their minor children. (Karachi, 27 May, 2010)
• Three sisters, identified as 20-year-old Fatima, 14-year-old Sakina and eight-year-old Saima, received serious burn injuries on their faces when masked men riding a motorcycle threw acid on them on Thursday near Babo Mullah in Kalat district. Local residents said a few days ago, unknown persons distributed pamphlets in Kalat, including shopping centres and NGO offices, threatening that if women stepped out of their homes without being accompanied by a male member of the family, they should be ready to face dire consequences. The handbills carried the name of a little known organisation ‘Rahay Raast'. (Quetta, 24 April, 2010)
Video footage of horrifying cases of acid attack in Pakistan.
• A Pakistani woman lawyer suffered serious burn injuries when her senior colleagues hurled acid on her on Wednesday.
Two practicing lawyers, said to be father and son, threw acid on their junior woman colleague within the premises of Multan District Court. (Islamabad, 14 April, 2010)
• Two sisters were attacked with acid in Dalbandin area on April 13. The girls had been shopping in Dalbandin when some unidentified motorcyclists threw acid on them.
A new organisation calling itself “Baloch Ghairat Mand Group” had issued threatening letters in Dalbandin in the first week of April, warning women not to go out of their homes for shopping. (Dalbandin, 13 April, 2010)
• Gul Begum and her elder sister Dur Jamal, aged 11 and 13 years, were standing outside their tent in Dalbandin, when two masked men appeared on a motorcycle, dousing them with acid and inflicting severe burns on their faces. (Dalbandin, 13 April, 2010)
• For seven years, Zakia Perveen's husband taunted, threatened and thrashed her, she says. After she filed for divorce, he struck again, throwing enough acid on her face to destroy her left eye. (Rawalpindi, 8 April, 2010)
• Acid thrown over women in ‘blasphemy’ attack on village. An angry mob petrol-bombed homes and threw acid over Christian women, after mosque loudspeakers accused the Christians of blasphemy. The attack took place on 30 June at Bahmani village in the district of Kasur, in Punjab. 9 burned women and 4 children were transferred to Lahore for medical treatment. (Kasur, 30 June, 2009)
• Maria Shah, aged 25, a lady health worker from Shikarpur, some 500 km from Karachi was the victim of an acid attack for refusing to marry Aslam Sanjrani. Her half-burnt face betrays signs of once beautiful features. Burnt from the face down to her thighs, she said the perpetrator was a rickshaw driver who had been hired by her family to take her to school. She succumbed to her injuries in February 2009. (Karachi, 15 January, 2009)
"Every person wishes that he or she is beautiful," says acid victim Liaqat, 21. "But real beauty lies inside a person, not outside."
There is a high survival rate amongst victims of acid attacks. Consequently the victim is faced with physical challenges, which require long term surgical treatment, as well as psychological challenges, which require in-depth intervention from psychologists and counsellors at each stage of physical recovery.
Cruelty beyond measure -
Irum Saeed is a resident of Rawalpindi. She recalls how in 1995, when she was only 17, a boy, whose marriage proposal she had rejected, followed her to her college and threw a jug full of acid on her in the middle of a narrow street. She suffered extensive burns on her face, back and shoulders. She has undergone plastic surgery 25 times to try to reduce the terrible disfigurement caused. (Photograph taken: 2008, aged 30)
Shameem Akhter face was mutilated with acid when she was only 17. She was kidnapped and raped by three boys who then threw acid on her in 2005 for revenge. Then they left hoping her appearance would silence her forever and ensure that she would never marry. Shameem has undergone plastic surgery 10 times to try to recover from her scars. (Photograph taken: July 2008, aged 20)
Kanwal Kayum was burned with acid in 2007 by a boy whose marriage proposal she rejected. She has never undergone plastic surgery. (Photograph taken: July 2008, aged 26)
Shehnaz Usman was burned with acid by a relative due to a familial dispute in 2003. Shehnaz has undergone plastic surgery 10 times to recover from the mutilating effects of the acid. (Photograph taken: July 2008, aged 36)
Bushra Shari, was burned with acid thrown by her husband in 2003 because she was trying to divorce him. She has undergone plastic surgery 25 times to try to reduce the devastation caused by the acid attack. (Photograph taken: July 2008, aged 39)
Memuna Khan was burned by a group of boys who threw acid on her to settle a dispute between their family and Menuna's. She has undergone plastic surgery 21 times to try to recover from the terrible physical damage caused by the acid. (Photograph taken: December 2008, aged 21)
Nasreen Sharif, 23, was once a beautiful girl. When she turned 14, her cousin poured a bottle of sulphuric acid on her face as she slept. His excuse was that he couldn't stand other boys whistling at her because of her beauty when she crossed the street. She no longer bears any resemblance to that youthful beauty. "My skin melted and my hair burned away. I am now blind, I have no ears and I have no sense of smell", says Nasreen.
Naila Farhat poses for a photograph in Islamabad, Pakistan on, Dec. 24, 2008 after undergoing plastic surgery several times to try to reduce the cruelly mutilating effects of her scars. Naila was burned on her face with acid thrown by a boy whom she rejected for marriage in 2003. (Photograph taken: December 2008, aged 19)
Zainab Bibi, adjusts her veil as she poses for a photograph in 2008. As is often the case in Pakistan, Zainab was burned on her face with acid thrown by a boy whom she rejected for marriage some years ago. She has undergone plastic surgery several times to try to recover from her scars. (Photograph taken: December 2008, aged 17)
Pakistani acid attack survivor Naziran Bibi learns to walk down the stairs with a stick at the Pakistan Foundation Fighting Blindness in Rawalpindi on the outskirts of Islamabad. She is only 23 years old, but with no upper lip, a barely reconstructed nose, scar tissue where her right eye should be and a raw red socket where her left eye once was, her youth is impossible to discern.
Married off against her will as a second wife to her brother-in-law after her husband died, Bibi says she was treated abysmally. Then one terrible night in 2008, someone poured acid over her as she slept, causing horrendous burns. Bibi thinks her husband was responsible, but he remains free. (Photograph taken: December 2009, aged 23)
Attiya Khalil, 16, poses for a photograph at her home in Lahore, Pakistan. Attiya’s face was burnt with acid thrown by relatives of a neighbor boy whom she rejected for marriage in 2005. She has undergone plastic surgery three times to try to revert the marring effects of the acid attack. (Photograph taken: July 2008, aged 16)
Munira Asef was burned with acid five years ago by a boy whom she rejected for marriage. She has undergone plastic surgery 7 times to try to recover from her scars. (Photograph taken: October 2008, aged 23)
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