VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN IN PAKISTAN
There has been a number of violent attacks against women in Pakistan. In 2011, the country ranked as the third most dangerous country for women after Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office states that this ranking is due to the prevalence of domestic violence, "'honour' killings," forced marriage, rape and physical and sexual abuse. Hundreds of people are killed each year by their own relatives over alleged sexual indiscretions, which are believed to bring shame upon the family. The victims are usually women but in some cases couples are killed.
The Aurat Publication and Information Service Foundation (AF) reported that 8,539 women were victims of violence in in Pakistan in 2011, an increase of close to seven percent from 2010. The AF says that it is an "open fact" that the majority of incidents of violence against women are not reported in the media, and that the statistics that they have compiled are the "'tip of the iceberg'". The AF study indicates that 610 of 8,539 cases of violence were categorized as domestic violence cases, and that other types of cases include abduction, murder, rape and gang-rape, suicide, "honour killing," sexual assault, burning, acid throwing, and "miscellaneous". However, the AF also states that most of the perpetrators of violence in the statistics compiled are relatives of the victims, such as a husband, brother, cousin, father, uncle, parents-in-law, son, or step son. The WEWA noted that sexual assault and acid-throwing usually take place within families. [Source: Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, January 14, 2013]
Around 90 percent of Pakistani women experienced domestic violence at least once, according to a 2011 Thomson Reuters Foundation poll. Amnesty International says violence against women in Pakistan is widespread yet many perpetrators go unpunished because domestic violence is regarded as a family matter. Dawn, a Karachi-based newspaper, reports that 8,000 violence-against-women cases were reported to Pakistani authorities in 2011, a 13 percent increase from 2008.
Hundreds of women are killed in Pakistan every year for bringing shame to families by marrying for love, committing adultery or bringing an inadequate dowry to a marriage. Hundreds of women are in jail because they filed rape charges and then were accused of willingly have sex, a crime in Islamic Pakistan. In the early 2000s, mullahs in the North-West Frontier province encouraged local men to forcibly marry (i.e. rape) women working for aid agencies.
Attacks in Women in the Punjab
The attacks seem to be particularly numerous in the Punjab. Alex Rodriguez wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “In Punjab province, women are often treated like chattel. Cases persist of teenage girls forced to marry men in rival families to settle blood feuds. Women who marry against their families’ wishes often become victims of honor killings. In a part of the country where local economies are driven by sprawling textile factories and sugar mills, women rarely own property or run their own businesses. Victimization of women is especially prevalent within the underclass here, where education is lacking and large, extended families scrape by on a few hundred dollars a month.” [Source: Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times, May 29, 2012]
In May 2016, Punjab police arrested a man and charged him with killing his wife, who was seven months pregnant, the Express Tribune newspaper reported. Using a club, the man apparently beat the woman to death after she refused to allow him to take a second wife. [Source: Aamir Iqbal and Tim Craig, Washington Post, May 5, 2016]
Also in Punjab around the same time a man tossed acid onto a 37-year-old woman, resulting in burns over 30 percent of her body. Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported that the woman’s nephew is the main suspect. The man apparently wanted to marry one of the woman’s daughters — his cousin — but was refused. “He was annoyed with his maternal aunt for turning down his marriage proposal,” Azhar Akram, a police officer in Multan, told Dawn.
Woman Stoned to Death in Downtown Lahore
In May 2014, pregnant 25-year-old Farzana Parveen was stoned to death by her own family in front of a downtown Pakistani high court in Lahore before a crowd of onlookers for marrying the man she loved. Associated Press reported: “Nearly 20 members of the woman's family, including her father and brothers, attacked her and her husband with batons and bricks in broad daylight before a crowd of onlookers in front of the high court of Lahore, the police investigator Rana Mujahid said. Hundreds of women are murdered every year in in so-called " honor killings" but public stoning is extremely rare. [Source: Associated Press, May 28, 2014]
“Mujahid said the woman's father has been arrested for murder and that police were working to apprehend all those who participated in the "heinous crime". Another police officer, Naseem Butt, identified the slain woman as Farzana Parveen, 25, and said she had married Mohammad Iqbal against her family's wishes after being engaged to him for years. Her father, Mohammad Azeem, had filed an abduction case against Iqbal, which the couple was contesting, her lawyer Mustafa Kharal said. He confirmed that she was three months pregnant. Arranged marriages are the norm among conservative Pakistanis, who view marriage for love as a transgression.
“Even Pakistanis who have tracked violence against women expressed shock at the brutal and public nature of Tuesday's killing. "I have not heard of any such case in which a woman was stoned to death, and the most shameful and worrying thing is that this woman was killed in front of a court," said Zia Awan, a prominent lawyer and human rights activist.
“Parveen's relatives had waited outside the court, which is located on a main downtown thoroughfare. As the couple walked up to the main gate, the family members fired shots in the air and tried to snatch her from Iqbal, her lawyer said. When she resisted, her father, brothers and other relatives started beating her, eventually pelting her with bricks from a nearby construction site, Iqbal said.
“Iqbal, 45, said he started seeing Parveen after the death of his first wife, with whom he had five children. "We were in love," he told the Associated Press. He alleged that the woman's family wanted to swindle money from him before marrying her off. "I simply took her to court and registered a marriage," infuriating the family, he said. Mujahid said the woman's body had been handed over to her husband for burial.
Arrests After of Stoning Death of a Woman in Lahore
In June 2014, Pakistani police arrested two brothers who participated in a mob attack during which their sister was stoned to death with bricks for marrying against the family’s wishes. Nayab Haider, a police spokesman said, said the two men, Ghulam Ali and Zahid Ali, were arrested from a home in the eastern Punjab province following an intensive manhunt. Police arrested a third man for taking part in the assault, who claimed the woman,25-year-old Farzana Parveen, was married to him at the time she wed against her family’s wishes. [Source: Associated Press, June 5, 2014]
Associated Press reported: “If true, it would add yet another twist to the increasingly bizarre story. Authorities said last week that the woman’s husband, Mohammad Iqbal, was accused of killing his first wife in 2009, but that the case was dropped after he was forgiven by the woman’s family. Under Pakistani law, those charged with a slaying can see their criminal case dropped if family members of the deceased forgive them or accept so-called “blood money.”
“Authorities arrested the woman’s father after the attack, and four other people were arrested. Rizvi said a total of eight people were now in police custody, including the woman’s father, two brothers, two cousins, an uncle, a driver, and the man who claims he was married to Parveen. “Senior and experienced police investigators are questioning the arrested persons. We will soon determine who hit the woman in the head with bricks,” he said.
“Parveen's father surrendered after the incident and called the murder an "honor killing", Butt said. "I killed my daughter as she had insulted all of our family by marrying a man without our consent, and I have no regret over it," Mujahid, the police investigator, quoted the father as saying. [Source: Associated Press, May 28, 2014]
Women Burned to Death in Pakistan
Attacks against women with fire are a serious problem. In one survey 560 women were burned in their homes in 1998 and 1999 in the Punjab. Half died. National Geographic ran a photograph of one woman whose face was burned off after her husband allegedly placed her head down in a stove. In another incident, a mother of four was beaten and burned to death because she quarreled with her parents in law who refused to let her leave the house to visit her parents and attended a cousin's wedding. The in laws said she was killed in a kitchen fire.
In June 2014 in Punjab, Associated Press reported, “a man burned alive a young girl he wanted to marry after her family refused his proposal. Fayaz Aslam, 26, doused Sidra Shaukat in gasoline before setting the 20-year-old alight in a field, said Akhtar Saeed, a district police official. Saeed said the girl was taken to hospital where she died overnight. He said Aslam was arrested for murder. Marrying without family consent is a taboo among conservative Muslims in Pakistan. [Source: Associated Press, Islamabad, June 29, 2014]
In June 2016, a 16-year-old girl was burned alive in Lahore for marrying a man of her own choice by her mother, who then shouted on the street to her neighbours that she had killed her daughter for bringing shame on her family. It was a rare example of such a crime being carried out by a woman. "Perveen Bibi killed her daughter Zeenat Bibi by burning her alive around 9:00 am on Wednesday," Haidar Ashraf, a senior police official told AFP, adding the teen had married a man named Hasan Khan on May 29. Zeenat Bibi was set on fire a little more than a week after the couple had acquired their marriage licence, police said. [Source: AFP, June 8, 2016]
AFP reported: “Khan's ethnicity — he is an ethnic Pashtun, while Zeenat was a Punjabi — was the main cause of the family's disapproval, according to the woman's family. Zeenat's husband Khan told local TV station Geo News that the pair had eloped, but he had reluctantly allowed her to return to her family home after they promised they would hold a celebration and not harm her. He said: "After living with me for four days following our marriage, her family contacted us and promised they would throw us a proper wedding party after eight days. Then we would be able live together. "Zeenat was unwilling to go back to her home and told me that she would be killed by her family, but later agreed when one of her uncles guaranteed her safety. After two days, she called me and said that her family had gone back on their word and asked me to come to get her, but I told her to wait for the promised eight days. Then, she was killed."
“Ashraf, the police official, said Perveen and other family members had confessed to the crime and that police had seized kerosene oil from the scene. At the victim's two-bedroom family home in a low-income southern neighbourhood of the city, Perveen's family remained defiant. Naseem Bibi, Perveen's younger sister, told AFP: "After killing her daughter, Perveen went out on the street, took off her shawl and started beating herself on her chest, shouting: 'People! I have killed my daughter for misbehaving and giving our family a bad name.' My sister declared a long time ago she would not allow her daughter to marry a Pashtun," she said.
“The victim's sister Shazia also blamed Zeenat for defying her mother, but said she had urged her mother to cut ties with her instead of killing her. Perveen's husband died several years ago and her relationship with her daughters had deteriorated, according to Shazia. “Our mother became distressed because of her daughter's disobedience and because she felt there was no man in the house to rein her in."
Pakistani Teen Burned to Death for Helped Friend Elope
In May 2016, fourteen leaders of a small village in northwestern Pakistan were arrested and charged with burning a teenage girl to death because she helped one of her friends elope, security officials said. Aamir Iqbal and Tim Craig wrote in the Washington Post: “The crime, which is renewing attention on Pakistan’s horrific record of protecting women and children from abuse, took place on the outskirts of Abbottabad in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Khurram Rasheed, police chief for the northern district of Abbottabad, said that the body of Ambreen Riasat was found in a burned van in the tourist resort of Donga Gali. Her exact age was in dispute. [Source: Aamir Iqbal and Tim Craig, Washington Post, May 5, 2016]
“A graphic photo of the teenager’s charred remains quickly circulated online. It appeared as though the girl’s arms had been bound before she was set on fire. Initially, police suspected that she may have been raped by a scorned boyfriend or as part of a family dispute. But Saeed Wazir, the regional police chief in Abbottabad, said Thursday that the killing was a “pre-planned act” involving 14 village leaders. Wazir said the entire village council had sanctioned the act to send a message to other minors. “They said she must be burnt alive to make a lesson for other girls,” he said.
“In an act of defiance against Pakistan’s strict Islamic and paternal customs, Wazir said, the victim had helped one of her friends secretly marry her boyfriend. The bride “didn’t obey her father’s will and did a love marriage at court with a guy,” he said. After the bride’s father found out, he requested that village elders investigate. The village elders called a meeting, or jirga. Under Pashtun culture, such gatherings are often held to try to reach consensus on how best to resolve local disputes. At times, the meetings also become a form of street justice.
“According to Wazir, the village elders investigating the marriage quickly discovered that the victim had helped her friend evade her father’s will. The elders decided the victim needed to be punished for not disclosing her role in the marriage. Several men then dragged the teenager out of her house and tied her into the van, Wazir said. “Despite the requests and pleas from her parents, villagers forcibly brought her out and set her afire while roping her to the seat of the vehicle,” he said. Both the leader of the Jirga and the father of the newlywed girl were arrested, Wazir said. A dozen other men who participated in the Jirga also were charged, he added. It was not immediately clear whether the new bride or her husband were punished.
Dowry Murders in Pakistan
As is true in India, Pakistan has a problem with dowry murders in which the groom's family attacks or immolate a new bride if the dowry given by her family is too small. There are also examples of and men murdering their wives so they can marry and collect a second dowry. In Karachi alone "stove burstings" kill 500 young women a year, and only about one percent of these cases are classified as murder.
The Thomson Reuters Foundation has said that Pakistan has one of the world's highest rates of dowry-related murders. According to the d US Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011 dowry and family-related disputes often resulted in the death or disfigurement of the victims by burning or acid . The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) indicates that dowry-related violence usually occurs when a husband or his family does not think a woman's family will provide the gifts promised, if a husband wants to re-marry, or if a husband will receive an inheritance upon the death of his wife. [Source: Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, January 14, 2013]
Fiza Farhan wrote in The Express Tribune: “Dowry is an “amount of property brought by a bride to her husband on their marriage”. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the term ‘gender-based violence’ (GBV) is used to distinguish violence that targets individuals or groups of individuals on the basis of their gender from other forms of violence. In my opinion, dowry is one form of normative GBV that is practised in South Asian countries. [Source: Fiza Farhan, The Express Tribune, March 20, 2018. Farhan is an independent consultant and chairperson to Chief Minister Punjab’s Task Force on Women Empowerment]
“Dowry is a form of violence, which is being inflicted on women, and is used as a medium to reinstate the patriarchal structures embedded in our society. My question then is, when a practice is prohibited in our religion, partially or fully banned by our legal system, an import from another culture or tradition — then why are there almost 2,000 cases reported about dowry deaths per year? Why does Pakistan still have the highest rate of dowry death at 2.45 per 100,000 women?”
Acid Attacks Against Women in Pakistan
Attacks with acid are big problem in Pakistan According to AFP: “In most acid attack cases around Pakistan, the majority of victims know their attackers. When caught, relatives found guilty speak of punishing their victims for having sullied their “honour” or that of their family with “indecent” behaviour.”
According to Human Rights Watch: While acid attacks occur throughout the world, they are highly concentrated in South and Southeast Asia. The problem varies from country to country in context, scope, and motivation. In India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nepal, the vast majority of attacks are perpetrated against women. The motivations cited for attacks in these countries include rejection of love, marriage, or sex; the victim having been raped and bringing shame to the family; domestic abuse; seeking education; and dowry disputes. In some parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan, girls describe acid attacks as a risk they take in daring to attend school. [Source: Human Rights Watch, February 4, 2019]
Rabail Baig wrote in Foreign Policy: “On the intersection of Dr. Ziauddin Ahmed Road and Club Road — one of the busiest traffic lights in Karachi...I often ran into a beggar woman who almost no one looked directly in the eyes. My mother without looking straight at her disintegrated acid-burnt face would nod her head and recite "Astaghfirullah," Arabic for "I ask Allah forgiveness," roll down the window and place whatever change she could find in her purse on the woman’s palm. Our driver, Rustam, a 20-something from Swat, would nod his head for an entirely different reason. "They bring this upon themselves for money, madam. I assure you she makes more than you do at your newspaper," he would say without a hint of empathy. But even he flinched while catching a glimpse of her deformed face. [Source: Rabail Baig, Foreign Policy, March 5, 2012]
“Though no concrete numbers or statistics exist, independent women’s rights and welfare organizations in the country have estimated that over 200 Pakistani women fall prey to acid-attacks every year because hydrochloric and sulfuric acid is widely and easily available and is very cheap. However, organizations that have used a more active method of data collection have yielded much higher rates. The Islamabad-based Progressive Women’s Association has documented over 8000 deliberate acid-attacks on women just in and around the Pakistani capital of Islamabad over the past decade. Even though these attacks left their helpless female victims mutilated and scarred for life in a matter of seconds, only two per cent of the cases were successfully prosecuted in a court of law.
Saving Face: the Film About Acid Attacks in Pakistan
Acid attacks in Pakistan were the subject of a 40-minute the film “Saving Face,” by “Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, the best-known documentary filmmaker in Pakistan, and winner of two Oscars and three Emmys. Alexis Okeowo wrote in The New Yorker:“Saving Face,” for which Obaid-Chinoy and Daniel Junge, her co-director, won an Oscar in 2012... follows Mohammed Jawad, a plastic surgeon who treats women who have been disfigured by acid attacks. The acid-attack victims belong mostly to the lower class....She creates an intimacy with them and their families. The rage is still there, however muted. During filming, the husband of one victim maintained that most of the women in the burn unit had inflicted their own injuries. [Source: Alexis Okeowo, The New Yorker, April 9, 2018]
Rabail Baig wrote in Foreign Policy: “Saving Face revolves around the stories of two women — both acid-attack survivors making arduous attempts to bring their attackers to justice with the help of the groundbreaking charitable work of London-based, Pakistani-born plastic surgeon Dr. Mohammad Jawad. Through the course of the short-film, Dr. Jawad strives to help these women put their horrific pasts behind them and move on with the rest of their lives.” [Source: Rabail Baig, Foreign Policy, March 5, 2012]
“Going on to make Oscar history by becoming the first Pakistani to win the coveted award, Chinoy and co-director Daniel Junge‘s Saving Face saved the day for Pakistanis both at home and abroad. The country’s prime minister has announced the highest civilian award for the filmmaker for helping Pakistan make headlines for the right reasons, for a change, and for serving as a catalyst for social progress through her work.
“But amidst the fanfare, one cannot help but think how unfortunate it is that it took such a shameful subject to bring Pakistan its first Oscar, and whether this historical win and the resulting global limelight on the subject of acid-throwing in Pakistan will help bring this heinous act to an end. One cannot be certain but one can hope, for that is something this international acclaim brings for acid-victims in Pakistan fighting injustice for very many decades.”
Acid Attacks Victims in Pakistan
In September 1999, a women was severely burned when her husband threw acid on her face, chest and back because she refused her husband requests to return to his first wife. Police didn't investigate because they received bribes from the husband. According to Pakistan’s human-rights commission, there had been hundreds of such attacks every year, many of them inflicted by men against current and former wives and lovers. The horrific crime, which disfigures and often blinds its overwhelmingly female victims, has also long been used to settle personal or family scores.
A woman from Karachi was severely disfigured and went blind in one eye when he husband splashed her with acid because she left him after repeatedly beating her. She told the press, “He has been beating me and subjecting me to torture. I was his third wife. He was having relations with other women also.” The husband was an influential former Punjab provincial lawmaker. Again he was not punished, presumably because he used his status to buy protection.
In October 2012, a Pakistani couple was accused of killing their 15-year-old daughter by pouring acid on her. They said they carried out the attack because she defiled her family's honor by looking at a boy, the couple said in an interview broadcast by the BBC. Associated Press reported: “The girl's parents, Mohammad Zafar and his wife Zaheen, recounted the incident from jail. The father said the girl had turned to look at a boy who drove by on a motorcycle, and he told her it was wrong. “She said `I didn't do it on purpose. I won't look again.' By then I had already thrown the acid. It was her destiny to die this way," the girl's mother told the British broadcaster. “Television footage of the couple showed them standing behind bars in separate, but adjoining jail cells. Pakistani officials initially said the attack occurred because the girl supposedly had an affair with a boy.
In June, 2103, Bushra, a television and theatre actress in Pakistan, was burned in an acid attack in northwest Pakistan. AFP reported: “The 18-year-old, known as Bushra and popular in the northwest for her film, television and theatre appearances, was attacked while asleep at her home in the town of Nowshera, 148 kilometers (92 miles) northwest of Islamabad. “A man climbed the wall of our house in the early hours, threw acid on my sister and fled,” Bushra’s brother, Pervez Khan told AFP. “A local police official, Sultan Khan also confirmed the incident. [Source: Agence France Presse, June 22, 2013]
“The teen was immediately taken to Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar where Dr Suhail Ahmad said she had suffered 33 percent burn injuries, on her face and shoulder, but was in a stable condition. Her brother Pervez Khan has lodged a complaint against a local TV drama producer, Shaukat Khan, over the incident saying that the producer was unhappy over Bushra’s refusal to marry him. Popular Pakistani singer Ghazala Javed, 24, was shot dead by gunmen as she left a beauty salon in Peshawar last year over a dispute with her ex-husband.
Acid Attacks on Women in Balochistan Take on an Islamist Slant
In 2014 there was a number acid attacks in Balochistan has sparked an impassioned debate both and throughout Pakistan about attacks on women and the rising Islamization forcing women to stay at home that was behind. AFP reported: Two fresh attacks on consecutive days in the province, where until a few years ago such assaults were unheard of, suggests a new pattern is emerging.” In one incident, “two men on a motorcycle sprayed acid using syringes on two teenage girls who were returning from a market in Mastung town, 40 kilometers from the provincial capital Quetta. The day before, four women aged between 18 and 50 had suffered the same fate in Quetta, in the market area of Sariab. They were partially burned. “In accordance with our Baloch traditions, they were wrapped in big shawls as well as covering their faces. That... saved (them) from severe injuries,“ said Naz Bibi, mother of two of the victims. Asked about the attackers, she said: “I can only request that they should not treat women in such a cruel way.“ [Source: AFP, July 31, 2014]
“In most acid attack cases around Pakistan, the majority of victims know their attackers. But, in these latest cases, the victims had no known connection to their assailants — which has led campaigners to suggest the attacks are part of rising religious extremism in the region. Balochistan has long been racked by a separatist insurgency. Separatists say the attacks on women are the latest battlefront in an ideological war between the rebels, who are fighting for a greater share of the region's mineral and gas wealth, and state-backed Islamist proxies who want to terrorise the population into acquiescence. “The aim of these inhuman acts is to prevent women from participating in education, as well as social, political and economic aspects of life by creating a climate of terror,” said Jahanzaib Jamaldini, vice president of the Baloch National Party, which is fighting for greater autonomy.
“This week, three more women suffered injuries to their legs and feet in yet another attack — though police and senior officials have so far said the latest incident was a case of a “family feud”. Mohammad Manzoor, a brother of one of the victims, lamented that the attackers were still at large. “They roam the area on motorcycles and the local people have spotted them, “he said.
In the Sariab district of Quetta, the scene of one of last week's attacks, Islamist groups like the Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal-Jammat (ASWJ), are increasingly coming to the fore. The group said the accusations were “without any basis”. “We condemn these attacks,” Ramzan Mengal, the group's leader in Balochistan said. The acid attacks also fit a wider pattern of a steady erosion of women's rights, especially in separatist and erstwhile relatively secular strongholds.
Al-Furqhan, an obscure militant group, recently appeared in the one-time separatist rebel stronghold of Panjgur district, which borders Iran, threatening private schools over the teaching of girls, according to residents. In an atmosphere rife with fear, no suspects have so far been arrested and no group has claimed responsibility.
“The first recorded acid attack in Balochistan came in 2010, with two more reported in 2012. Mohammad Aslam, a women's tailor in Sariab, has seen sales drop by three-quarters since the market attack. “Women are afraid to step out of their homes or their men stop them from going,” he said. Shopkeepers in Mastung reported a similar decline in sales. “We fear that such incidents could increase and leave no space for women in an already male-dominated society,” said human rights activist Saima Jawaid.
10-Year-Old Pakistani Acid Attack Victim
Reporting from Faisalabad, Pakistan, Alex Rodriguez wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “The cherub-faced 10-year-old girl was standing at a bus stop, saying goodbye to visiting relatives, when her mother noticed two motorcycles approaching, one coming down the street and the other from a graveyard behind them. She recognized someone on one of the motorcycles: her older daughter’s former fiance. He was clutching two liter-sized metal jugs. As two men armed with a pistol on the second motorcycle kept the cluster of relatives from running away, the ex-fiance handed one of the jugs to a fourth man riding with him. Without saying anything, they flung the contents at Parveen Akhtar and her little girl, Zaib Aslam. [Source: Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times, May 29, 2012]
“The jugs contained sulfuric acid bought at a local market for 88 cents. “It felt like someone had flung fire on me,” Akhtar said. “When I turned to look at Zaib, her face didn’t look like a face. In that terrible instant, much of Zaib’s face was seared away and her eyelids sealed shut. The acid splashed into her mouth, severely scarring her throat.
“At the hospital, doctors sized up the damage to Zaib’s face and throat. Her face had been nearly flattened by the acid. Her nose was destroyed and her lips had ballooned. Doctors saved her life, but lacked the means to do anything more than a single skin graft from her thigh that gave her face a bit more depth.
“Six months later, Zaib always keeps a pink shawl draped over her head. She doesn’t want anyone — not even her family — to see her face. She can’t see. Her throat remains badly swollen, so she eats only soup or bread dipped in milk or tea to soften it. There are days when she tells her family she no longer wants to live. And there are days when she sobs and begs for someone to turn back time. “She’ll tell us, ‘I want my old face back!’ ” said Akhtar, whose right arm, neck and torso were burned in the attack. “ ‘All of you have normal faces! Why can’t I look like you?’ ”“
Zaib “feels imprisoned. On the few occasions she has gone outside, neighborhood children have shunned her. “They stare at her face and say, ‘No, we don’t want to play with you,’ ” Akhtar said. She has missed five months of school since the attack. At home, she spends most of her time sitting alone on her bed, playing with dolls. “She cries so much,” Aleem said. “There are times when she has said: ‘I want to die. It’d be better to die than to live this life.’ ”
Behind the Acid Attack That Severely Disfigured the 10-Year-Old Pakistani Gir
Alex Rodriguez wrote in the Los Angeles Times: In the summer of 2011, “Dastagir, a 38-year-old supervisor at a Faisalabad textile plant, announced plans to marry Zaib’s 20-year-old sister, Nazia. On the day of the wedding, Dastagir didn’t show up. He had never told Nazia or her family that he was already married and had two daughters. His uncle had finally convinced Dastagir that he couldn’t go through with the wedding. [Source: Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times, May 29, 2012]
“Two months later, Nazia married another man, a 25-year-old computer technician at a Faisalabad textile plant. When Dastagir found out, he was furious, Akhtar said. Dastagir focused his anger on Akhtar, who he believed had allowed Nazia to marry someone else. “One day, he saw Nazia and me at a bus stop and threatened us,” Akhtar said. “He told me: ‘This marriage is wrong and I will not leave this alone. I will deal with you.’ ”
“On November 25, Dastagir acted on his threat....After throwing the acid, Dastagir and the other three men sped away. Police later arrested Dastagir and two of the accomplices. Dastagir, however, had connections with clout-wielding locals, including a Punjab provincial lawmaker, said Akhtar’s brother-in-law, Abdul Aleem. The lawmaker’s son-in-law began showing up at Akhtar’s house, urging her and her husband to accept money instead of a jail term for Dastagir and the other men, he said. “There was no direct pressure, but we felt we were being threatened,” said Aleem, who became the family’s negotiator. “He’d say: ‘If you agree, in the future we will take care of you if you’re in trouble. But if you don’t listen to us, we won’t be on your side if you face trouble.’ ”
“On the day a judge approved the settlement, Dastagir and the other men walked free. Though the money is far more than either Aleem or Aslam, Zaib’s father, makes in a year, it doesn’t come close to paying for the raft of surgeries that doctors say Zaib will need to have any hope of improving her face and eyesight.
Combating Acid Attack Victims in Pakistan
Alex Rodriguez wrote in the Los Angeles Times: When Obaid-Chinoy won an Oscar for “Saving Face,” Pakistan’s struggle to eradicate the crime drew worldwide attention, and horror. A law enacted in December has established tougher penalties for acid attack convictions: from 14 years in jail to lifetime imprisonment, and a fine of up to US$11,000 — a large sum for most Pakistanis. And yet every week, victims show up in emergency rooms nationwide, their faces and bodies horribly scarred. [Source: Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times, May 29, 2012]
Rabail Baig wrote in Foreign Policy: In 2011, “the parliament of Pakistan adopted harsher penalties for perpetrators involved in acid crimes as the Senate passed the historical Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill along with the long-awaited Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Bill. Both bills were introduced and carried through by female members of the National Assembly of Pakistan, which itself is quite a mean feat for the women of Pakistan.
[Source: Rabail Baig, Foreign Policy, March 5, 2012]
“The acid control bill sentences perpetrators of the crime a minimum of 14 years to a lifetime of imprisonment and levies fines of up to Rs 1 million [US$11,000]. The bill also enlists major steps to control the import, production, transportation, hoarding, sale and use of acid to prevent misuse and promises acid-victims legal security.
“Post-win, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and her team are using their website to formally launch a movement to raise awareness about acid attacks to further strengthen this newly developed legislation against acid-crimes. Posting on their website, co-director Junge says the film must be "more than an expose of horrendous crimes, it must be a recipe for addressing the problem and a hope for the future."
Lack of Justice for Acid Attack Victims in Pakistan
Awareness about acid attacks has improved, Valerie Khan of the Acid Survivors Foundation, a Pakistani advocacy group for victims, told the Los Angeles Times in 2012. but Pakistan remains a patriarchal society where, particularly in rural areas, women’s rights are routinely ignored. Many attacks go unreported, and even when victims lodge complaints, police and judges often halfheartedly pursue the cases. “The main trend in the Pakistani justice system remains that too few perpetrators are being convicted,” Khan said. “With local police and judges, the level of sensitivity and attention that they give to this issue is clearly insufficient.” [Source: Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times, May 29, 2012]
The father of Zaib, the 10-year-old girl described above, Rodriguez wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “is retired, and the eight children who still live at home rely on about US$200 a month earned by Zaib’s 12- and 15-year-old brothers, who work as mini-bus attendants, and an 18-year-old brother who works at a bakery. In the legislation passed in December, a loophole that once allowed acid attack defendants to avoid jail by reaching out-of-court settlements with victims was closed. That doesn’t give Zaib any solace, however. The attack that ended her life as she knew it occurred November 25, just 17 days before it passed. A settlement reached in March between Zaib’s family and Ghulam Dastagir, the man who engineered the attack, is not affected by the new law (See Above).
“The price that settlement put on Zaib’s face and misery was 350,000 rupees, about US$3,800. Akhtar received 500,000 rupees, roughly US$5,500. Leaning against a doorway at their two-room house in a cramped Faisalabad neighborhood, Akhtar glanced over at Zaib sitting motionless on a bed and acknowledged that settling was a mistake. “I’m not happy with this agreement,” Akhtar said. “He’s free, and he could come and attack me again, or he could attack someone else in my family. That fear gnaws at me.”“
Pakistani Court Orders Noses and Ears Cut Off Two Men
In December 2009, A Pakistani court has ordered the noses and ears of two men cut off after they did the same thing to a young woman whose family spurned one of the men's marriage proposal. The anti-terrorism court in the eastern city of Lahore said it was applying Islamic law by ordering the punishment. [Source: Babar Dogar, Seattle Times, December 22, 2009]
Babar Dogar wrote in the Seattle Times: “Lahore prosecutor Chaudhry Ali Ahmed said one of the accused, Sher Mohammad, was a cousin of the 19-year-old woman and wanted to marry her. Her parents refused his proposal. Sher Mohammad and a friend, Amanat Mohammad, were accused of kidnapping the woman and cutting off her ears and nose in late September in the Raiwind area of Lahore.
“The court also sentenced each man to 50 years in prison and told them to pay fines and compensation to the woman amounting to several thousand dollars, the prosecutor said. Pakistan’s legal system has Islamic elements that sometimes lead to orders for harsh punishments, but the sentences are often overturned and rarely carried out. Serious crimes are often referred to anti-terrorism courts in Pakistan because they move faster.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (tourism.gov.pk), Official Gateway to the Government of Pakistan (pakistan.gov.pk), The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.
Last updated February 2022