Acid Survivors Foundation and Marvi memon.
24th December 2009
Acid violence is an outrageous form of torture which involves throwing of corrosive acid at the victim’s face. This not only causes face disfigurement but also has a catastrophic effect on the victim’s life. It is one of the worst forms of domestic violence and is most often directed towards women. However, children are often the collateral damage of this kind of violence. The effects of acid violence include serious physical harm (loss of eyes and limbs, corrosion of organs, and subsequent infections such as septicaemia and gangrene). In addition to the inevitable psychological trauma, survivors also face social isolation and ostracism that further damages their self-esteem and gravely undermines their professional and personal future.
Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF) has been working on acid violence issues since 2006 with the support of a UK-based organisation, Acid Survivors Trust International. The ultimate goal of the organization is to eliminate acid violence from Pakistan and promote human rights of the survivors through a peaceful democratic process. Acid Survivors Foundation also provides medical, psycho-socio rehabilitation, legal and socio-economic rehabilitation to acid burn survivors. Till date, the organization has identified 276 acid attack cases, treated 74 patients and provided legal support in 42 cases.
Very recently, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan has also asked for information regarding the phenomenon of acid violence before issuing a decision in a suo moto case (NAILA FARHAT) on November 20, 2009.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry requested the Government to pass Acid Crime Prevention Act which would specifically deal with acid attack cases in terms of prevention & punishment, and the Acid Control Act, to regulate the sale and purchase of acid, as done by Bangladesh in 2002. In addition, he has also asked the government to provide free medical treatment to these acid burn victims and help them in terms of provision of legal aid and rehabilitation facilities. He has appreciated the work of Acid Survivors Foundation for providing free medical treatment, psycho-socio rehabilitation, legal aid and assistance & socio-economic rehabilitation to the acid burn victims.
The punishment granted to the accused in the above mentioned case was twelve years and three months along with a fine of 1.2 Million Rupees, which is higher than the one stated in the Pakistan Penal Code, Section 336, that is, of ten years. This initiative taken by the Supreme Court provides a strong basis for advocating and lobbying for the need of laws dealing specifically with the issue of acid violence, the prevention of such crimes in future, and the need to regulate the sale & purchase of acid. It is the first time that an acid attack case has reached the Supreme Court which is a big achievement not only in terms of this case, but for future cases as well as it will encourage other victims to come forward and seek justice through an effective and timely judicial process, and enable other courts to grant a higher punishment keeping the Supreme Court precedent in mind.
ASF-Pak has been working with a number of parliamentarians, lawyers and other Government and Non-Government Organisations to draft a bill which would specifically deal with the issue of acid violence. Marvi Memon is one of the few parliamentarians who has taken upon the challenge to advocate for this cause and present the Bill (to be called the Acid Control & Acid Crime Prevention Act 2009) in the National Assembly.
Currently, as stated earlier, there is no law in Pakistan that specifically deals with the issue of acid violence. The acid attack cases are tried under the Section 332 & 335 of the Pakistan Penal Code which talks about hurt and disfigurement but does not define disfigurement specifically and comprehensively. Section 336 states the punishment for causing disfigurement which is up to ten years. The new Act will not only define disfigurement but will also increase the punishment to life imprisonment which will act as a strong deterrent to prevent acid attacks in future. It will also make the perpetrator liable for all the medical expenses incurred and losses suffered by the aggrieved person and in case of failure of payment by the accused, the Act makes it obligatory for the court to make the accused pay the amount.
Furthermore, there is a need to control the easy accessibility and availability of acid to the general public. The Poisons Act 1919 only caters to the sale of poisons and not its purchase. Moreover, the punishment for a breach of unauthorised sale under the Act of 1919 is only Rs.500 because of which till date the sellers of unauthorised sale of poisons (including acid) sell unsealed quantities without any fear of check and control. The new Act on the other hand, not only defines poisons and caters to the sale and regulation of poisons but also increases the punishment for the unauthorised sale and purchase of poisons. In addition, it also introduces an extensive and thorough system of licensing to monitor the sale and purchase of all poisons which are currently accessible by the general public and makes it obligatory for the cancellation and suspension of licences in case these substances are sold/purchased by someone who is not authorised to do so.
The Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Act 2009 acts as an important tool to safeguard the rights of acid burn survivors and the people of Pakistan in general against atrocious and heinous crimes. If passed by the parliament it will be evident that the Parliament is now committed to fight for and protect acid survivors’ human rights and the rights of Women and Children to an Acid Violence Free Pakistan.