10/02/2008, 00.00
BANGLADESH

Acid, the new weapon for disfiguring women

by Nozrul Islam
Wives, daughters, girls are punished by having acid thrown on them, permanently disfiguring them. The government prohibits the sale of the corrosive liquids, but they are easily found on the market. The phenomenon is spreading. The victims now include children and adult males.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) - Women in Bangladesh suffer marginalization. And the violence against them, at home and outside, continues to grow. Recently, a new weapon has been added: acid, which disfigures their faces and bodies.

Parul's husband is 30 years old. In 2000, he disfigured her by throwing acid into her face, because her relatives had not paid the agreed dowry. The victim's mother presented a charge a few months ago, because until then she was unable to leave her daughter's side, who was always in various hospitals. The husband - who everyone knows to be guilty - is a free man.

Nasima has an 11-year-old mentally retarded daughter who was raped. She accused the attackers two years ago, and since then she has received continual threats. An acid attack left her torso and back devastated. Now she promises that she will not charge her daughter's attackers, and will withdraw her previous accusation.

Domestic and international awareness-raising campaigns led the government to pass, in 2002, a strict law against the custom of throwing acid into the faces of young women for economic reasons, or because of jealousy, or because they resist sexual advances. After a certain reduction in these cases, they are now on the increase again. There were 1,428 from 2002-2007, 116 cases from January to August 2007, which rose to 125 in the same period this year. Since 2002, there have been only 190 trials, in which 254 defendants have been sentenced: 11 to death, 89 to labor camps. Authorities are unable to say how many of the sentences have been carried out, and how many of those sentenced are in fact in prison.

According to the law, acid can be bought only with a license, but anyone is able to procure it on the open market, at a price of about 60 euro cents per kilo: this is enough to disfigure a person, often completely "melting" the throat, trachea, esophagus, with horrible suffering.

Most recently, the victims have not been only young women, but also children, out of vengeance against their parents, and men, especially over land disputes and romantic rivalries.

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