Acid attacks shut off victims from the rest of the world

October 1, 2008 | By admin | Reply More

In her adolescent days Mariam had a dream of life in a mud-walled hut with a caring husband and a family of her own in a quiet village surrounded by green rice terraces in the heartland of Bangladesh.

But Mariam’s dream was shattered when her husband threw acid at her as “punishment” because her parents were unable to pay her marriage dowry.

The acid attack, which happened six months ago, left her face and body disfigured.

As she writhed in unbearable pain, her husband Zameer (not his real name) fled their home before the neighbours and the police arrived on the scene.

Mariam (not her real name) was admitted to the burn ward of the state-run Medical College Hospital in the capital Dhaka where attending doctors struggled to save her eyesight from the burning acid.

Mariam, who lives in the shantytown of Pallabi on the outskirts of Dhaka, is not the only teenage housewife to go through the nightmare of acid attacks by greedy husbands and dowry seeking in-laws.

Social workers say acid violence has claimed more than a dozen victims in slum colonies around the bustling capital city in the past six months.

Acid offences also include attacks on women from angry paramours as well as for settling rivalries.

“Most often the attackers avoid charges brought against them because of social pressures in the male-dominated, conservative Islamic society,” human rights lawyer Salma Ali told the Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa in Dhaka.

Ali, who has fought legal battles on behalf of acid attack victims, cited a lack of depositions by witnesses or negligence by investigating officers for the low prosecution rate.

Ali’s National Women Lawyers Association has been giving free legal aid to the victims for getting compensation and meeting medical costs from the attackers.

Presently acid violence is limited to middle and low income families but analysts say that the anti-social acts could spread to the relatively affluent sections of the society.

“Acid attacks devastate the lives of the victims who are either physically disabled or doomed to a life of seclusion, passing days in agony, shut off from the rest of the world,” said Monira Rahman of the Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF).

The Western-funded charity based in Dhaka tries to attend to the needs of the survivors of acid violence by arranging hospitalization, reintegration into the community and employment.

The ASF and other aid organizations claim the acid attacks against women are on the rise, partly because the interim government has failed to implement the Acid Control Act passed in 2002.

The military backed government is working on a set of rules which would help the law enforcers to keep in detention suspects accused of acid throwing, Home Secretary Abdul Karim said at a recent meeting of the National Acid Control Council.

The council has also called for strict laws against the open sale of all kinds of acids used in industry and sold at battery (accumulator) shops.

About 1,440 cases of acid attacks have been filed since the act was promulgated six years ago. These include 322 criminal cases against people in high offices who are also facing trial in different courts in the country.

Karim said 254 people had so far been sentenced for acid crimes, 11 of whom were given the death penalty.

But none of the death sentences have been carried out because of appeals filed by the defence counsels in higher courts.

Sheer negligence by the police and court officials has allowed many acid-throwing suspects to get acquitted, human rights activists say.

Home Ministry officials say a monitoring office has been set up at the national police headquarters to keep track of the progress in investigations into acid attack cases.

They said the victims of acid attacks are being encouraged to pursue their cases by appealing to the highest court if they feel that the offenders have not been sufficiently punished by the district courts.

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Category: Opinion

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