“My husband burned me. I was sleeping and he came inside and just threw acid on me. He didn’t want me anymore,”
“I was thirteen years old at the time of the attack. My schoolteacher wanted to be with me but I refused and then he threw acid on me.”
These are the stories of countless survivors of acid attacks in some of the poorest and most uneducated depths of Pakistan. Dubbed as a rising epidemic, acid attacks on women— who are considered “second class citizens” by many in remote areas of Pakistan—are increasing in numbers every single year. Acid attacks are becoming a more popular method of violence due to the current availability of acid as a cheap cleaning fluid, or for use in the cotton industry
Acid throwing, one of the most violent forms of assault, is defined as the act of throwing acid onto the body of a person “with the intention of injuring or disfiguring one out of jealousy or revenge.” Countless victims of such violence are left with tightly stretched and distorted faces, instantly turning them into social pariahs in an already misogynistic society. Many victims soon find that they have eye socket-less faces, pink bulgy scar tissue, and dissolved cheeks where skin, flesh, and bones, once sat. After such events, many women suffer through deep health problems related to the incident, and usually do not have the money or resources for treatment. Of the 786 incidents of acid throwing victims so far, a mere 62 of these financially dependent women have been supported, thanks to UK’s Department of International Development. But those who aren’t as lucky are often left physically and psychologically scarred, ostracized by their community, and afraid.
The majority of women are victims of this crime due to already prevalent domestic violence, revenge sought by rejected men, or instances when a woman speaks out against her husband or the family of the husband. Pakistan’s Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF) states that over 150 acid related acts of violence are reported each year in Pakistan, however, they estimate that the real number of women affected is actually much higher.
Many victims choose to ultimately stay silent as only 10% of cases make it to the court in a dysfunctional legal system and the conviction rate of such criminals remains at a low 6%. Speaking out against perpetrators of acid throwing also entails becoming a social outcast, as many communities blame women for these assaults, claiming they have “brought it upon themselves.” And for those women who do actually decide to take legal measures, the perpetrators are almost never found guilty or given retribution for their actions due to the patriarchal and at times misogynistic values of the judicial system.
In December of 2011, ASF, aided by UK’s Department of international Development, ran an international campaign, lobbying for new legislation regarding these criminals and stricter action by the courts when hearing these cases. As a result, Pakistan’s Parliament passed the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 2011, stating that acid and burn violence was a crime against the state. Criminals found guilty of such a crime will have a one million Pakistani rupees fee imposed, and will be sentenced to a minimum of seven years in prison.
Although a milestone in the fight for basic human rights for women, ASF argues this legislation still is not enough to truly combat and eventually eradicate acid violence, arguing that legislation should go further than retribution, to include the trial and rehabilitation process. Such actions would help minimize corruption and unjust rulings in the courts system. ASF is currently pushing for the Comprehensive Acid and Burn Crime Bill to pass, which would strengthen pro-women legislation to curb violence against them. This bill is currently being processed, and in the meantime, ASF continues to spread awareness, raise money for victim support and legal aid, and ultimately advocate for the legislation that will protect women against future acid attacks.