Women in Pakistan face wave of burn attacks

More than 220 women mutilated, 40 of them died following attacks between April, June '09 [Media Line].

islamabad 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
islamabad 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Attacks against Pakistani women that involve burning and acid have increased over the past few months, a new report has found. More than 220 women were burned in the period from April to June this year, resulting in the death of 40 women in Punjab, according to a report issued by the AGHS Legal Cell. The report is based on data collected from four hospitals. It indicated that violence against women is on the rise and that the assailants enjoyed impunity, according to the Pakistani The News. "Violence against women in Pakistan is endemic," Nisha Varia, deputy director of women's rights division at Human Rights Watch told The Media Line. "Although there are never reliable numbers about violent incidents, we know that in every study carried out, there are very high rates of domestic violence and incidents like acid attacks." The numbers documented by AGHS mark a staggering increase in such attacks, given that 68 women reported to have sustained burns in the first quarter of the year. The organization said the victims were not being provided with appropriate medical treatment and that they seldom seek legal action. Varia said that in many cases these acid attacks are applied against women and girls who seem to be breaking a social code or an idea of honor. "It may be someone who refuses to marry someone that her family has picked out for her or someone who's running away from a marriage where they're unhappy or being abused," she said. In other cases it happen when women or girls are accused of adultery or even of being seen in public with a man who is unrelated to them. "We know of cases where women or girls were killed just to retaliate against a family of another clan," she said. Hundreds of cases of burn attacks on women are reported in Pakistan every year. Many cases are not reported to the police so the actual numbers are estimated to be much higher than those documented by various organizations. Acid attacks, where acid is thrown onto the face and other parts of the body causing severe pain, bodily harm and mutilation, is common practice is other South Asian countries such as Bangladesh and India. One of the reasons this type of violence is so common is likely the availability of acid in Pakistan. "If we look at violence against women all around the world, women are being killed, not only in Pakistan, but in the US, in Europe and in other parts of Asia," Varia explained. "Weapons that are most readily available are often the ones that are used. We may see a lot of gun violence against women in the US, acid attacks against women in Pakistan and burning by kerosene against women in India." A lot of the attacks take place in rural areas but they certainly not limited to these regions, she added. The Punjab province has been a hotspot for these acid and burn attacks there have been increasing in recent years. Human Rights Watch is trying to raise awareness about this type of violence to make it impossible for the government to deny it is going on. "We try to apply pressure so that the government recognizes these crimes, prosecutes the perpetrators and provides services to the victims," Varia said.