Acid attacks: Crimes of hate rather than honour

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Acid attacks are on the rise, but so are reports of the crime, which is grim progress. Photo: ITV News

Acid attack is a crime which has everything to do with hate and absolutely nothing to do with honour. Here in Pakistan it is almost exclusively a crime against women.

There were 117 cases of reported acid crime in Pakistan last year. Nearly all of them were against women, 15 of them were against children. In the most recent case, last month, a mother and father killed their young daughter with liquid acid after she had "looked at a boy."

But most of the men who throw acid do not intend to take a life - but to ruin a life, and there are hundreds of women in Pakistan who have been left disfigured and blinded by the crime who are then shunned and outcast as a result.

Aziz Mai is one of them. Her husband attacked her after she ran away from him in desperation, and took her children with her. He had threatened to sell their young family to raise money to buy drugs. When he threw acid he not only injured his young wife, but three of their children as well.

Victims are often cast out of the community. Aziz is forced to beg, and says children find her scary. Credit: ITV News

He is now in prison, but she still receives threats from her father-in-law. She has scarring all over her face, and is blind in one eye, and because of her facial injuries is unable to get a full time job. She tells me she often ends up begging on the streets to feed the family:

Children are frightened of me. A woman in Pakistan like me has no value.

I am talking to her at the Acid Survivors Foundation in Islamabad, where women who have been attacked receive medical and psychological support. The foundation also works on lobbying to eradicate the crime.

They have had some success: acid attack was made a criminal offence in November 2011. But still the number of reported incidents has doubled in two years, although there has been a slight drop since the legislation has been passed.

Only 10% of perpetrators who do get convicted are jailed for their crimes
Only 10% of perpetrators who do get convicted are jailed for their crimes Credit: ITV News

Mohammed Khan, director of the ASF warns that the statistics may reflect a growing awareness of the crime, not simply a rise in it's occurrence. But either way, campaigners are urgently lobbying for more legislation to control the sale of easily available acid.

The Prime Minister's special advisor and MP, Shanaz Wazia Ali, told me that restricting the sale of acid was "high on the Government's agenda". But it will not make this session.

They also need to empower police, and prosecutors further says Mohammed Khan. For only 10 percent of perpetrators go to jail.

Sidra Javed's attacker is behind bars. He threw acid on her 14 year-old face when her family told him she was too young to marry. She is now blind in one eye and enduring her 7th operation.

16-year-old Sidra has endured 7 operations, and is blind. She was attacked two years ago. Credit: ITV News

Dr Hamid Hassan will perform the operation. Of the man who stole Sidra's beauty he says:

It is difficult to comprehend the psyche of a man who would do this, it will take years of education to eradicate this type of thinking.

But not even years of the most skilled surgery in the world will restore Sidra's youthful radiance.

I pray to God no other woman must endure what I have endured

But until legislation is in place to prosecute the perpetrators and control the sale of unlicensed acid, the prayers of Aziz Mai and women like her will not be answered.