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The painful journey of acid-attack victims in Pakistan

Acid attacks or rightfully termed by Tehmina Durrani “Acid-terrorism” has been a prevalent issue in Pakistan which has its prime targets as women and children.

As per the records of the Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF), the number of reported acid attacks cases in 2014 was 153.Although a 50% decline was observed in the number of reported cases between 2015 and 2016 for women, on average 100 cases are reported every year whereas there no account of the unreported cases. The victims in these cases are not only women but also young boys and men.

Moreover, the percentage of children as acid-attack victims has increased from 15% to 21.3% between 2013 and 2016.

Even though there are some organizations in place to cater to the acid-attack victims such as ASF (Acid Survivors Foundation) and Tehmina Durrani Foundation, but the efforts taken by them cannot solve the problem unless the root cause is treated. According to the social activists, the easy availability of acid in the markets in the name of “household cleaners” is one of the main reasons for the frequency with which the crime is committed.

Acid-attack is still considered a taboo topic in Pakistan and lacks proper implementation in its law.

Acid-attack is a taboo in our society where religious figures condemn vocal expression of the matter and consider it suitable for the issue to be handled within the households. Hence, the matter is often hushed up by the in-laws and husbands, often by blackmailing the victim.

However, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy a documentary film maker was able to lift the curtain from the taboo by means of her Oscar-winning documentary “Saving Face”.

The 2012 documentary showed the incidents of multiple women who had ruthlessly been victimized to these acid-attacks. The perpetrators in most of these cases were either the husbands or the in-laws who used acid on these women to protect their ego.

The documentary also showed how a Pakistan surgeon, trained in America had voluntarily committed to operating plastic surgeries on the acid-attack victims, free of cost.

However, the process itself was very critical and the patients’ expectations about getting their original features back had to be met. One of the patients, Zahida had lost one of her eyes as a result of the acid-attack and even though her surgery was successful there was no chance for an artificial eye to be inserted in place of the lost eye.

That is the pain and suffering brought about by these acid attacks.

They bring about irreparable emotional and physical damage which cannot be fixed by surgeries. In addition to that, not every victim is lucky to get operated for facial surgery and that too free of cost.

The first prominent notice of this issue was taken by the legislator Marvi Memon in 2009, after she personally visited an acid-attack victim in the hospital. She eventually laid down the foundation of the bill which was passed by the Senate in 2011 known as the Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill 2010 and The Prevention of Anti-Women Practices (Criminal Law Amendment) Bill 2011.

It charges the guilty with life imprisonment or a minimum sentence of 14 years with a fine of Rs 1 million. Even though the passing of the women’s’ rights’ bill is an achievement, many loop holes exist in the systems that prevent its proper implementation. One of the major problems is the lack of training of medical staff on how to prepare a proper medico-legal report when a victim comes to them for examination. Since most of the victims of acid attacks belong to rural areas, no proper allocation of the funds has been done by the Human Rights Ministry in Pakistan to provide them legal aid or any other form of support.

Moreover, the general public especially the women belonging to the rural class lack awareness about their rights.

There need to be certain mechanisms in place for the acid-attacks to stop.

Firstly, proper system of accountability needs to be established in order for the criminal be immediately reported and convicted. For this, a helpline needs to be in place that is functional at all times and accessible to the general public. Secondly, there needs to be some action for social acceptance of the victims, who often get ostracized by the society.

For example, in Bangladesh a fashion show was held in which the acid-attack victims were made the models. This helped remove the taboo that these people are outcasts and cannot participate in normal events and gatherings.

Thirdly, the society as a whole should be involved in the effort of bettering the lives of the acid-attack victims. This can be done by means of getting involved in donations and social voluntary work.

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