An article from The Nation on the net.
Acid attack victims pin hope on new laws
Published: January 05, 2010
The uneducated woman from cotton belt in rural Punjab province may want brutal justice, but activists are pressing for a change in the law to help prevent such attacks.
Thanks to a struggle in the highest court in the land by another acid attack victim – Naila Farhat – campaigners are hopeful that this devastating form of violence can be curtailed.
Ours is a conservative country, where women – especially in poor, rural areas – can be treated like commodities with little protection from the police and under pressure not to disgrace their families.
“Their families will say ‘it’s the wrong thing to go to the courts, what will society think about you?’,” said Sana Masood, the legal coordinator with Pakistan’s Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF).
The nation remains without a domestic violence law. It has been drafted, but lawmakers say it is still under debate as a senator from a hardline party raised objections and sent the bill back to parliament.
Acid attacks are rising, with ASF recording 48 cases in 2009 and Sana says countless more probably go unreported because of social stigma.
That is up from about 30 cases in 2007, a rise Sana says could be blamed on increased stress in people’s lives as inflation soars.
Farhat was just 13 years old when a man threw acid in her face in 2003 because her parents refused to let him marry their child.
The attacker was sentenced to 12 years in prison and ordered to pay Rs1.2 million in damages, but on appeal a high court reduced the damages and said the man could go free once the money was paid.
Enraged, Farhat and ASF went to the Supreme Court – the first acid attack case to be taken to the highest court – where judges overturned the high court ruling within minutes.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry took a personal interest in the case, and recommended that the government pass new legislation to control the sale of acid and increase punishment for acid attacks.
Sana says industrial-strength acid used in cotton processing can be bought by anyone for just a few rupees.
“Because of its easy accessibility to the general public, for very stupid domestic issues they will just throw acid on each other,” she said. “It does not only destroy a person’s face but it destroys a person’s life.”
Also key would be the introduction of a law requiring the attacker to pay for their victim’s painful and expensive treatment and counselling.
ASF has been pushing for such laws for years, but now hopes a bill will be tabled in parliament this month.
“They should, with relevant amendments, pass it unanimously and we don’t expect the government to unnecessarily delay the process or create any blocks,” said parliamentarian Marvi Memon, acknowledging the process could take months.
Without Farhat, these steps may never have been made, and she remains dedicated to helping other victims, coaching Bibi through her treatments and helping her come to terms with her future.
“I encourage other acid attack victims and tell them that they should continue fighting for their rights and should not hesitate to come out of their homes, they should come forward,” Farhat told AFP.