Acid attacks are the worst display of revenge. None of us can even imagine the burning of the skin – and the soul – that acid victims have to go through. In a country like Pakistan, where the literacy rate is barely half of the percentage of the total population, acid attacks are the most common form of violence against women. As per the statistics provided by the Acid Survivors Foundation of Pakistan, out of every ten acid attack victims, seven are women. The most common reasons behind acid attacks include refusal of marriage proposals, domestic violence, denial of sexual favors and refusal to conform, etc. In recent years, the number of transgenders who have become victims of acid attacks has also increased. This reflects the lack of tolerance and acceptance towards sexual minorities in the country and the misguided urge to destroy anything we cannot understand or come to terms with.
Life After an Acid Attack – A Never Ending Ordeal
The extreme burning sensation and pain felt after being attacked with acid does not stop even after the wounds have healed. The victims of such a heinous display of a bruised ego have to live with mental pain and agony for the rest of their lives. It is also pertinent to realize that their whole life can melt away with the melting of their skin. Most victims are breadwinners of the families, parents, or have people depending on them.
According to a BBC News report, a woman named S had been drenched in acid but managed to survive with 15% of her body being completely burnt. She was a mother of four and the only reason she had to go through something so horrible was because of her “beauty”. S shared that her husband used to constantly pick fights with her because of his insecurities related to her beauty. So one day he threw acid on her and ran off with her mobile so she wouldn’t even be able to call for help. After surviving the attack, S, who previously used to enjoy getting dressed and wearing bright colors, could not even bear to see her own appearance. She said she looked worse than a dead body. As per BBC News, S is being kept a ward in Nishtar Hospital Multan with leaking pipes and broken furniture, where she is checked up on only once a week. Her relatives are struggling to collect funds to continue her treatment. The only thing keeping her alive is her children. Thousands of other acid victims have no life to return to after an acid attack.
The worst outcome of being an acid victim is being shunned because of one’s appearance. The same had been the fate of a dancer named F who was doused in acid at the mere age of thirteen. She had to go through nearly forty surgeries and still ended up committing suicide because of the lack of support.
A Gradual Decrease in Cases – The Laws That Saved the Day
Until 2015, the number of acid attacks had been on the rise with each passing year. The Acid Survivors Foundation is now seeing a decline in cases but the number is still considerably high. The decline only seems plausible due to the efforts of dedicated organizations and the awareness raised by them within the society. One such campaign revolved around the movie Saving Face by Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy which even won an Oscar award. The best part about such campaigns was that they caught the attention of the legislature, resulting in a law aiming to prevent acid attacks. The Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Act 2011 specifically criminalized acid burn attacks, leading to a decrease in cases. The Act not only imposes a fine worth PKR 1 million but also imprisons the culprit for a term not less than 14 years. Moreover, the crime is non-bailable and non-compoundable which means that the accused can neither run away nor pay his way out of it. This is a good law as various bailable and compoundable crimes have otherwise seen accused people get away with their heinous acts if they have money and resume their normal lives without any inconvenience. On the other hand, the victim is left to suffer. Any financial support offered to the victim by the accused is never sufficient to alleviate the physical and mental grievances suffered.
In 2012, as per the orders of the Government of Punjab, acid attack cases started being tried in the anti-terrorism courts under the Anti-Terrorism Act whereby the accused would be imprisoned for life. The Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Act 2011 also introduced important amendments within the Pakistan Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure by including acid and burn crimes to the definition of ‘hurt’. According to these amendments, the culprit can be held liable to be imprisoned for life. The Senate of Pakistan also passed two Bills in 2012 that severely punished the culprits of acid and burn attacks. However, the number of cases still kept increasing every year because of the lack of implementation of these laws.
The Acid and Burn Crime Act 2018 was introduced and enforced in Islamabad which specifically criminalized such actions and also dealt with the provision of speedy and fair trial along with the rehabilitation and treatment of victims and their dependents. Such legislation needs to be enforced throughout Pakistan and not just limited to the capital which already has a comparatively better literacy rate than the rest of the country.
The dilemma is that we need a law which not only prevents acid attacks but also protects the victims of such attacks and a law which not only makes the lives of victims easier but also regulates the supply of acid and similar extremely hazardous chemicals in a strict manner. The 2011 Act only holds unauthorized sellers of acid and similar hazardous chemicals liable for a term of not more than two years with very little fine. Apart from the prevention of acid and burn crimes, we also need to introduce provisions and enforcement mechanisms within the law to regulate the correct implementation of existing legislation.
What We Need To Do
We need legislation that both prevents and protects individuals from falling victim to such heinous crimes. Moreover, we need to introduce reporting and investigating mechanisms that make it easier for the victims or their legal heirs to report the crime and seek justice. A sense of urgency should be present within our legal system when dealing with crimes of a heinous nature. We need a system where acid victims get treated and brought back to normal life. We also need to ensure that the dependents of the acid victim are being taken care of as long as the victim is unable to take responsibility for them.
Furthermore, we need to involve religious preachers to spread awareness regarding this issue. Pakistan claims to be a theocratic state heavily influenced by religion. Anything that is not in accordance with Islam is not tolerated here. The masses are so charged whenever there is a religious issue at hand that they tend to take the law into their own hands. Sermons during Friday prayers can be helpful in raising awareness about issues related to religion and educating the public about religious teachings. We need to encourage them to discourage heinous forms of violence against women. Education is the best way to curb cruelty. Knowledge makes us human and is a powerful tool to stop sick practices within our community.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any organization with which she might be associated.