Throwing acid to settle scores on the rise in Bangladesh

September 27th, 2008 - 12:54 pm ICT by IANS  

Dhaka, Sep 27 (IANS) Nasima, 35, received serious burn injuries earlier this month as men threw acid on her after she refused to withdraw a court case against those who had allegedly raped her 11-year mentally challenged daughter. “What is more brutal for a mother than to receive acid burns instead of justice?” asks the doctor treating her.The incidence of men throwing acid on women due to a dispute, rejection of a marriage proposal or being jilted in love is again on the rise in Bangladesh, after a brief lull, The Daily Star reported Saturday.

The Burns Unit of the Dhaka Medical College and Hospital (DMCH) received 13 cases this month while 35 cases were received between June and September. The number was eight during the same four months last year.

The burns unit never got this many patients in such a short span, The Daily Star said after speaking to the hospital authorities and the NGOs dealing with this problem that has hit headlines here.

It has also caused concern at home and abroad, especially among women’s organisations.

According to an Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF) report, there were 116 acid-throwing cases from January through August in 2007. The number stood at 125 in the corresponding period this year.

The report highlighted the case of Nasima, 35, who received serious burn injuries earlier this month after she refused to withdraw a court case against men who raped her 11-year mentally challenged daughter two years ago.

“Aziz and his associates, who raped my 11-year-old daughter, threw acid on me because I did not agree to withdraw the rape case on their orders,” she said from her bed at the Burn and Plastic Surgery Unit of Dhaka Medical College and Hospital (DMCH).

“What is more brutal for a mother than to receive acid burns instead of justice?” asked Samantalal Sen, project director of the burns unit.

Most of the current patients at the burns unit are victims of social violence stemming from disputes over property, failure to pay dowry or refusal of love or marriage proposals.

The incidence of acid violence went down after the enactment of the Acid Crime Control Act and Acid Control Act of 2002. But the situation began worsening again in the past two years.

“The main reason for the increase is availability of acid,” said Sen.

People are required to show medical prescriptions to buy narcotic like pethidine, but there is no such thing when it comes to buying acids, adding to their criminal use, he added.

According to the police headquarters, 1,428 cases were filed with acid crime control tribunals from 2002 to 2007. Only 254 people have so far been convicted in 190 of the cases.

Of them, 11 were sentenced to death and 89 got life sentences while 329 accused were acquitted.

But no government or NGO officials could say how many of the death sentences were carried out or how many of the other convicts are doing their time in jail.

“We don’t know how many of the criminals are being punished. The cases were filed with different courts, we don’t have any nationwide figures,” Humayun Kabir, additional inspector general (crime 3), told The Daily Star.

Advocate Salma Ali of Bangladesh National Women Lawyers’ Association (BNWLA) said: “The poor rate of convictions gets in the way of keeping individuals from committing the heinous crime.”

“Poor investigation on the part of police and out-of-court settlement are to blame for this,” she said.

As the criminals are often influential people, they pile pressure on the victims’ families to withdraw cases.

At the same time, the police cannot gather evidence properly as relatives get busy with treating the victims and there is delay in filing cases, destroying vital evidence, experts said.

Parul, 36, was burnt eight years ago when her husband threw acid on her. The acid burnt her entire face, throat and neck while her ears simply melted away. She underwent several plastic and reconstructive surgeries at the DMCH.

Her mother filed a case one and a half months later. “My mother was busy with my treatment,” Parul said.

The almost blind Parul now begs on the streets while her husband Abul remains at large.

“I’ve been suffering without committing any crime. But the man who did this to me went scot-free,” she said.

Experts say the government has got to enforce the law strictly and ensure a tough monitoring system to stop misuse of acids, and add that the law must not provide for bail.

Campaign against acid violence needs to be strengthened at the same time, they said.

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