PAKISTAN: Pakistan Toughens up on Acid Attacks

Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Sunday Times
Southern Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

Pakistani lawmakers have adopted tougher penalties for acid attacks in a step towards eradicating a form of violence that can disfigure around 200 women a year, campaigners said Wednesday.

Koe Srey Vy, 36, an acid attack victim. File picture.
Those convicted of one of the most brutal gender crimes can now be jailed for between 14 years and life, and fined a minimum of one million rupees ($11,750), whereas previous sentences could be restricted to around six years.

Pakistan's lower house of parliament passed the amendment on Tuesday, but the legislation needs to be formally rubber stamped by the Senate.

It tightens the definition of disfigurement and recommends provincial assemblies crack down on the buying and selling of acid.

"This is only the first step... when the first prosecution comes in, that's when it shows we mean business," said Marvi Memon, who presented the bill.

"In our feudal society, the culprit gets away with this crime simply because they're connected to some feudal lord, who is connected to some parliamentarian and now we will ensure we'll be watchdogs over this," she added.

Valerie Khan Yusufzai, chair of the Acid Survivors Foundation, told AFP that acid attacks were under reported in Pakistan but believes there are an average of 200 such attacks a year.

"This is a great achievement but not enough. Eradication of acid violence needs a comprehensive law and that is battle number two," she told AFP.

Yusufzai said acid attacks are prosecuted in categories of attempted murder, hurt or disfigurement, but that the amendment provides a clearer opportunity for victims to register the crime.

"A comprehensive law would define acid and burn crime in a far more comprehensive manner and would be a special law. Not only the crime is being addressed, but the procedure, accountability, medical care, rehabilitation."

Pakistan is a conservative Muslim country, where women -- especially in poor, rural areas -- can be treated like commodities with little protection from the police and under pressure not to disgrace their families.

The nation remains without a domestic violence law. It has been drafted, but lawmakers say it is still under debate as a senator from a hardline Islamic party raised objections and sent the bill back to parliament.