Acid crimes show no letting up on women in Pakistan

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Face of an acid attack victim in Pakistan
The stark but honest and dignified face of an acid attack survivor from the 2009 video, “Pakistan: Beauty Industry Helps Acid Burn Victims,” by filmmaker Ayesha Nasir. Image: Ayesha Nasir

(WNN) Lahore, PAKISTAN, SOUTH ASIA: Acid violence in Pakistan’s north eastern region in the city of Lahore has just claimed another victim. This time it’s the second attack in one week. The acid violence hit a 16-year-old girl named Rida who was attacked by two unidentified people on a motorcycle as she was walking with her boyfriend to her aunt’s home in Lahore.

At this point the exact reason for the crime is not known, although the Lahore police have officially opened an investigation. Often the crimes involve family disagreements or intimidation.

The crime can also be committed after negative reactions following a young woman’s rejection of a suitor, or in a dowry dispute.

In 2009 Naziran Bibi’s story chronicled extreme domestic abuse. She was attacked with sulfuric acid, which was used as a weapon by the wife of the second man she was forced to marry. Sulfuric acid is commonly used in lead-based motor vehicle batteries. The dangerous chemical is also used by jewelers and manufacturers who work with gold plating. It can also be found in use by companies involved with fertilizer production and oil refinement.

Growing up in Bahawalpur Province in southern Punjab, Bibi was, according to DAWN news Pakistan’s number one news daily, sold into marriage at the age of 13. After becoming a widow she was later forced by her husband’s family to marry one of her husband’s brothers against her will. But the abuse did not stop there.

After marrying her husband’s brother Bibi was thrown immediately into a family who already had one wife.

Three months after the marriage the first wife of her late husband’s brother threw acid on Bibi while she was sleeping. Without a way to get immediate help, the attack left her completely blind. Bibi would later need many reconstructive surgeries as plastic surgeons worked to rebuild her eyelids, hair and face.

“Then three months after we got married, at 2:00 am while I was asleep, she threw acid at me, on my face, neck, chest half my stomach and my left arm,” outlined Bibi.

Without resources at the time Bibi was not able to have her day in court.

The 2010 legislation in Pakistan that was created to slow acid violence called the Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Act attempted to give more protective measures for women who suffer under the violence of acid crime, including payment by the perpetrators to victims who are unable to work because of the violence perpetuated against them. There are also prohibitions against businesses that sell acid illegally. But numerous advocates inside Pakistan say that the current laws are not enough. Acid violence in Pakistan is still happening too frequently.

Recently a new version of the bill came up in the Pakistan parliament, but the bill has stalled. Those who work closely with acid survivors hope deeply that the bill can be picked up with a new push again soon.

Although reported cases for acid crime is low at 32 cases in 2010 with a rise to 44 cases in 2011, the cases of acid violence in Pakistan that have not been documented are said to be much larger. Shahnaz Bokhari, chief coordinator at Pakistan’s Progressive Women’s Association says that her organization has documented over 8,800 cases of acid and fire violence since 1994. Support organizations for acid survivors, like the Acid Survivors Foundation, have been set up to help both men and women who have suffered under this insidious form of violence.

In the most recent case of Rida the District & Sessions Judge in Lahore has now been directed to probe into the matter then follow through by submitting a detailed report regarding specific steps taken by the local police, as well as add his own comments and assessments.

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Oscar winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy speaks about her investigations and her award-winning film called “Saving Face” which follows the situation for women in Pakistan who have suffered under violent acid crime. This award winning film was released in the U.S. in 2012. Showing the ‘behind the story’ depiction of the film Obaid-Chinoy states the facts. More than 100 people, mostly women, are attacked with acid every year in Pakistan.

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