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Pakistan's Acid Victims Get Help -- From Australia

The victim of an acid attack is comforted at a local hospital in Quetta in 2010. Activists say about 150 women are attacked with acid every year in Pakistan.
The victim of an acid attack is comforted at a local hospital in Quetta in 2010. Activists say about 150 women are attacked with acid every year in Pakistan.
Three years ago, Mai was attacked by her husband, who burned her face with acid for refusing to sell her children.

As the "The Express Tribune" reports:

"Our life has been ruined," Mai said, about herself and her five children, some of whom were also physically affected in the acid attack by her husband. "We have been condemned to a life worse than death," she added.

But Mai, one of the scores of women disfigured or killed in acid attacks in Pakistan each year, has not been left to fend for herself. She has received support from the Acid Survivors Foundation, a Pakistani group that attempts to help some of the victims of acid attacks. According to the group, around 150 women are attacked this way each year by men who easily obtain acid used in the cotton industry. The real number is likely much higher, activists say, as the crime is rarely discussed in Pakistan.

The Acid Survivors Foundation is one of two groups to have recently received grants of 10 million rupees (about $100,000) from Australia's government. The awards were announced by Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr on international Human Rights Day on December 10. The other, the Jinnah Institute, works to create awareness of acid attacks through the schools.

And acid attacks are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to violence against women in Pakistan, which a report earlier this year ranked as the third-most-dangerous country for women, behind only Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Pakistan was reported as having "some of the highest rates of dowry murder, so-called honor killings, and early marriages." According to Pakistan's Independent Human Rights Commission, around 1,000 women and girls die in honor killings annually.

RFE/RL Radio Mashaal's Daud Khattak recalls one such horrific incident:

I still remember the daylight murder of a budding female singer, Ayman Odhas, in the city of Peshawar in 2009 by her own brothers for appearing on television, a move that defied the family norms.

Although Odhas was an adult, living with her husband who had no objection to her singing on television and the stage, her brothers felt the act dishonored them. One morning they knocked on her door, before shooting her repeatedly when she stepped out to meet her visitors.

This shows the collective mentality of a society where women, instead of being thought of as equals, are dealt as a commodity owned by men -- father, brother, or husband -- from birth to death.

These "owners" reserve every right to treat her as a commodity in terms of settling honor or blood disputes, monetary matters, marriage, or any other situation that may arise. Domestic violence is often ignored as a petty dispute and has become part of the culture where many people are living in a joint-family system.

While Pakistan's government passed a law in December 2011 setting a fine of 1 million rupees ($10,240) and life imprisonment for perpetrators of acid attacks on women, the law is not enforced or applied in many cases. Acid Survivors Foundation head Mohammad Khan says that "either they don’t register a case or they book the perpetrators for some other offense."

As Pakistani film director Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, who won an Oscar for her documentary "Saving Face" about acid attacks, says, the problem is not just about the law:

What, of course, we haven't been able to tackle is the fact that men who throw acid on women are usually related to them, and the families find it hard to press charges against them, because there's a lot of shame involved and somehow women are made to believe it's their fault that this has happened.

Sometimes it's a girl's own parents who attack her. Last month, the parents of a 16-year-old girl in the town of Kotli, in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, were arrested for killing her with acid. A doctor said she had third-degree burns to her scalp, face, eyes, nostrils, arms, chest, and legs.

Her offense? She had talked to a boy outside their home.

-- Dan Wisniewski

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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