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February 20, 2014

Use of Acid Attacks for Punishment Persists in Pakistan

by Sharon Behn

WARNING: Video contains images of disfigured faces that some might find disturbing.

Despite laws against acid attacks, the practice of pouring acid on men, women and children as a form of punishment continues in Pakistan. Two victims who are trying to put their lives back together again spoke with VOA about their challenges.

Muhammad Hassan Mangi, Director General of the Pakistan Ministry of Human Rights, said there are laws in place against acid throwing. He admits, however, that more needs to be done.

"You need to have such methods and things in practice that you can express your, even, anger in a decent manner. That has to be understood by society,” he said.

Muhammad Farooq refused to marry the woman his family had chosen for him. His punishment was having corrosive acid thrown in his face.

“It felt like water, but I was wrong. The acid burned my face and body, my skin sounded like dried leaves cracking,” said Farooq.

Forty percent of the acid attack victims in Pakistan are men or boys.

Farooq endured horrific physical pain. And deep depression. “At first, I was devastated. There was nothing left in my life. No past, no future, no present,” he said.

There were 143 acid attacks registered with the Acid Survivors Foundation in 2013. Most were against women and girls.

Nusrat Bibi’s brother refused to marry into her husband’s family. She paid the price. She’s had 17 surgeries to rebuild her face and body.

“Anyone who saw me got scared. They showed my pictures to my children to scare them, telling them their mother was frightening and had become a ghost,” said Bibi.

Valerie Khan, chair of the Acid Survivors Foundation in Islamabad, said breaking the stigma of the survivors’ scars is essential to their survival.

"It’s about rebuilding your mind, your self-esteem, and it’s about reclaiming your space in the community and in the public space as a man, a woman, who deserves -- and will obtain -- respect and dignity again,” she said.

Farooq no longer hides his face. He is trying his hand at photography. He’s living his life.

“My message to those that did this is that you tried your best to kill us, but we have been saved. God willing we will move on. Never lose hope, be patient. This is a test of patience. God will reward us,” said Farooq.