Comment: How many more faces will be lost?

Despite a national resolve, provinces have not passed any bills on acid crimes.

Fouzia Saeed July 30, 2012


In December 2011, some survivors of acid attacks sat in the Senate’s gallery to observe the passage of an amendment to the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) that declared such attacks criminal. The strong support of our Parliament on that bill was a major step toward dealing with this inhumane crime.

Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s Oscar for a film on acid survivors got national and international acclaim and helped to move public opinion against this crime. The suicide death of acid victim Fakhra Yunus was another jolt. After numerous operations to normalise her face and body, she finally gave up and committed suicide in Italy. Many in Pakistan mourned her loss and wanted to put a stop to the menace of acid attacks, but the horror stories continue. Many more have become victims, blinded and deformed by egotistical criminals. Each of these attacks defaces the image of Pakistani society.

Since 2010, the Acid Survivors Foundation has led a movement to criminalise these inhumane acts. It received support from government officials, health practitioners, the academia, burn centre officials, civil society and parliamentarians. They worked together for a year to produce two draft bills. One was the PPC amendment to criminalise the action of acid and burn attacks, while the other was a comprehensive bill to strengthen the courts’ ability to convict the criminal and support the victim.

This second bill is necessary because the judicial process is complex. These crimes will not end only by criminalising the specific act. There are a number of other issues relating to the process of reporting, investigation, collecting medical evidence, compensation for rehabilitation, and protection for the victim and the witnesses. Both of these bills, like the twin laws against sexual harassment, are needed to address the complex social web surrounding this crime. Without these comprehensive laws, criminals will walk free while their victims will continue to live in shame and misery.

With regard to devolution, the provinces must address the issue in their assemblies while the federal government must take forth the bill for Islamabad. By October 2011, the National Commission on the Status of Women had reviewed the second, more comprehensive bill with its own legal experts and civil society. However, despite national resolve on this issue, not a single assembly has taken any step towards the passage of bills.

One wonders what is preventing the assemblies from taking up a bill that has been well-prepared, and is essential for the handling of heinous crimes. We have a federal government which has proven its commitment to women - having passed seven pro-women laws in the last three years. We have provincial governments that have taken on their devolved portfolio of women’s development quite well after June 2011, and are picking up the pace of action on implementing anti-sexual harassment laws.

One realises that the clash of our major national institutions has deflected priorities away from substantive issues, but the daughters of this country cannot keep losing their faces. How many more women will be deformed before the wake-up call is heard by chief ministers?

In the last three years, the partnership between the government and civil society on social legislation has been well established. The draft is ready, but the bill has to be moved. Who can we count on to keep up the pressure until a comprehensive law on acid crimes is passed? Can we count on the prime minister to push for passage of the bill for Islamabad, setting a positive lead for the provincial assemblies to follow? Can we count on the chief ministers to take this draft law up urgently, as if the next woman to lose her face will be their own daughter?

The latest democratic period has brought us many needed changes in our laws, and one continues to be optimistic that the society will soon move in a direction to resolve this issue as well.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 30th, 2012.


Zehra Abbas | 9 years ago | Reply

Delaying laws that provide the women of Pakistan with a safety net for ambiguous reasons is a detrimental mistake for a nation with an already soiled human rights reputation. The government of Pakistan is very capable of taking care of the human rights violations taking place within its borders and setting an example for developing countries worldwide. A good start would be to follow through with the commitment of punishing the culprits of this horrific crime. Let's get the Acid and Burn Crime Bill passed in all provincial assemblies! The people of Pakistan are counting on their government! The people of the world are waiting and watching.. So let's save our own face Pakistan and show em what we're made of!

Lynley Ruth Butt | 9 years ago | Reply

Relevant to the psychological motivation angle... It seems- on the face of it- the people who indulge in these crimes cannot bear rejection... at least , this is what they believe about themselves. " I cannot bear this insult which has caused grievous injury to my self-esteem therefore to rectify this state of affairs and turmoil inside me I shall disfigure this insulting person and avenge this to my self-satisfaction"... would seem to go the " self justification".

What can be done? Someone said to me once... I would not want to even think about trying to contract a LOVE marriage... I want only an arranged marriage! Reason... Because I cannot bear even the THOUGHT of any possible rejection.... being offered as a response. To what? I guess- the feeling is "I will not lay myself open to rejection"... on this most sensitive intimate issue. Now this someone who confided this was educated but sheltered... ie did not socially mix with anyone of the male species outside the family circle and neither did she work... and we should remember that females CAN make the opportunity to and do throw acid... perhaps not as readily as men, but never the less- this rejection is a BIG DEAL for both sexes, as is the issues of rejection by families- in-law when weddings DO occur along with resentments and grievances and unfulfilled expectations.

This being the case, I feel we should do more in Middle and High Schools towards ensuring young people have advance guidance and discussion that would assist them in their future independent lives... towards COPING with any such of these various commonly occurring and poorly handled emotional setbacks. Emotional Intelligence and grooming along with more confidence in Peer support ( when young people are in the grip of an extreme emotion that the cannot deal with alone and unaided) is an important aspect that is presently neglected in Pakistani education. It may be one of the outcomes of a more inhibited, protectionist, family-orientated segregationist society. So this needs issue needs to be opened up and negative feelings helped towards a more positive idea of how self esteem can be returned to bitter angry resentful individuals who feel they have suffered the ultimate insult. This can be dealt with in a Holistic Health course ( Nutrition, hygiene, first aid, physical, mental, emotional spiritual health) along with a thorough acquaintance with Human Rights under Pakistani Law. Besides the introduction of this subject- which is well worth the while to do, since it is no use educating individuals only to lose them as they lose all vestiges of common sense and decency with respect to others and their relationships with others- there is something else schools can do. They can establish Guidance Counsellors with two-fld duties. !) To help students with career selection. 2) To assist with any personal/family/peer group/teacher-student emotional upsets, grievances and losses, substance addiction, failing grades.

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