Bangladesh Cuts Acid Attacks on Women
Bangladesh has passed the test. When it comes to implementing strong measures to tackle acid attacks, the country has done better than its neighors India and Cambodia.
In a recently-released study on crime in Bangladesh, Cambodia and India, researchers found that Bangladesh had taken the most proactive approach to decreasing the attacks by enacting a no-bail policy for perpetrators, forming a national council to regulate corrosive solutions and ensuring treatment and rehabilitation for victims.
Whether the attacks follow perceived wrongdoings or are simply the response of spurned suitors, thousands of women in the South Asian region around Bangladesh have had sulphuric acid sprayed or poured onto their faces, eliminating facial features, causing blindness and fusing skin together, forcing them into a life of health problems and social isolation.
"This is a form of gender terrorism, I believe," says Sital Kalantry, Cornell International Human Rights Clinic Director. The study is based on two years of on-the-ground research and fact-finding conducted by four New York-based groups: Kalantry's Human Rights Clinic; Cornell Law School's Avon Global Center for Women and Justice; the New York City Bar Association; and the Virtue Foundation, which acts in a consultative capacity to the United Nations on global health care, education and empowerment initiatives. It was funded by a grant from the Avon Global Center for Women and Justice.
Despite the good news, Bangladesh's women have yet to feel the full benefit of the new laws and policies. The density of population in the country combined with a relative scarcity of police officers hinders investigations and prosecutions.
In Bangladesh, in the years between 2000 and 2009, there were 2,198 reported attacks but only 439 convictions, according to the study. However, the attacks in Bangladesh have waned, falling steadily from 367 in 2002 to 116 in 2009.
Producers of the report, entitled 'Combating Acid Violence in Bangladesh, India and Cambodia', call it the first comprehensive study of the use of acids to maim, disfigure and punish women.
A search of Indian newspapers by the researchers found 153 reported cases in India between January 2002 and October 2010 and the Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity has counted 271 acid violence victims treated in hospitals in Cambodia between 1985 and 2010.
But these figures from the report may not tell the whole story, as records of such assaults in these nations are not always kept and the crimes themselves are sometimes not reported, feels Kalantry.
In the next year the producers of the report plan to offer technical assistance based on the current data and advice on what to do moving forward to governmental representatives of Cambodia, Bangladesh and India, should they ask for it, to help confront and change the culture of acid attacks, she adds.
Also in the pipeline is a forum to be held in New Delhi in October where various women's health and rights non-governmental organizations and possibly government representatives from the three nations studied - where acid attacks are relatively prevalent - can compare strategies and successes.
Victims often become social pariahs as some communities see them as bad omens. "Unlike rape, which can be hidden, this is on a woman's face," Kalantry says.
Corporations that produce or use acids in their products will also be recruited to help end the violence. According to Sara Lulo, Avon Executive Director, acids are readily available in Bangladesh, India and Cambodia and are used as cleaning products, in dyes for clothing and in batteries. Better labeling of receptacles in which acids are sold could make a difference, Lulo feels, which gives producers of the chemicals a way to join the fight against acid attacks.
Karsten Strauss is a freelance journalist based in New York City. By arrangement with Women's eNews/Women’s Feature Service