Acid Attacks Against Women Continue

Acid attacks are common in a number of Asian countries including Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Cambodia(see first photograph) and Bangladesh. In Bangladesh alone, over 2,600 cases of acid attacks have been reported since 1999. Acid attacks are a particularly vicious and damaging form of violence where acid is thrown in people’s faces.

The overwhelming majority of the victims are women, and many are below 18 years of age. The victims are attacked for many reason, quite often by a jealous spouse or someone in  their immediate family. In some cases it is because a young girl or woman has refused the sexual advances of a male or either she or her parents have rejected a marriage proposal. More recently, however, there have been acid attacks on children, older women and also men. These attacks are often the result of family and land dispute, dowry demands or more simply a desire for revenge.

The chemical used for these heinous crimes are either nitric or sulfuric acids. The two acids have a catastrophic effect on human flesh. It causes the skin tissue to melt, often exposing the bone below the muscular tissue, and sometimes even dissolving the bone. When acid attacks the eyes, it damages them permanently. Many acid attack survivors have lost the use of one eye or both eyes. Of course the scars left from these horrendous crimes are not just skin deep, added to the great psychological trauma they suffer, survivors also face social isolation.

Despite the viciousness of these attacks, many go unreported. It is the case in Pakistan, Bangladesh and India, but despite a growing public outcry it remains easy to purchase the deadly acids. For instance, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, sulfuric acid can be bought for the equivalent of 44 cents a pound and nitric acid for 59 cents a pound.

In Pakistan, accurate statistics on acid attacks are hard to find, but the attacks are very common. The perpetrators are most often relatives or rivals. A conservative estimate of acid violence in Pakistan is about 150 attacks a year. Human rights groups and medical professionals say that the number of cases reported since 1994 is 8,000. However, human rights activists believe that only 30 percent of acid attack cases are reported by the victims.

In Pakistan, a news legislation debated in parliament would amend the Pakistani penal code by specifically defining hurt and disfigurement and listing commonly available acids as dangerous substance. The bill would also increase the penalty for such horrible crimes from 10 years to life in prison.

The Pakistani media, after ignoring the problem for years, is finally putting pressure on the government and urging law makers to crack down on the perpetrators of acid violence. This, in return, is helping women to come forward and speak out against acid attacks.


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