Acid-Hit Pakistani Wife Decries Tradition

Sakina, right, and her sister Shahina, left, acid throw victims give a news conference with the help of women rights activist Shahnaz Bukhari, Saturday, April 5, 2003 in Islamabad, Pakistan. Sakina, said she was burned along with her sister Shahina, 15, last year when her husband threw acid on them in their home at a remote village in the district of Ahmadpur East, 700 kilometers (435 miles) southwest of the capital, Islamabad. AP

A Pakistani woman made a public appeal Saturday for her husband to be arrested for scarring her face with acid, a plea for justice that is becoming more common as a growing number of South Asians speak out against the rarely punished practice of violence against women.

Identified only as Sakina, the 22-year-old woman said her husband should be given a long prison sentence to set an example. She was encouraged to tell her story by an activist group to underscore that violence against women remains unchecked.

"He should suffer and feel the same pain which I have felt," she told reporters at the office of the Progressive Women's Association.

Sakina said her husband, Zahid Nawaz, threw acid in her face last year in a fight over his drinking and gambling habits. Sakina's 15-year-old sister Shahina also was burned while trying to intervene.

She said police made no attempt to arrest Nawaz, who was moving unhindered in their remote village in the district of Ahmadpur East, 435 miles southwest of the capital, Islamabad.

"We are living under fear of another attack," she said. "I want justice."

Violence against women reflects the traditionally low social status of women in South Asian societies.

Shehnaz Bukhari, head of the Progressive Women's Association, said her group has documented 1,500 cases of acid and burn victims in Pakistan since 1994. Victims are attacked for reasons such as spurning sexual advances and rejecting marriage proposals. She said authorities should ban the sale of acid to unauthorized persons.

While acid burns rarely kill, they result in serious disfigurement and suffering, frequently confining women to their homes.

"The victims cannot move in society, avoiding further embarrassment," Bukhari said. "They face social isolation, which damages their self esteem and their economic position."

Few women complain of abuse for fear of severing all ties with their families and being left without any means of support. But, last year, one woman who was gang-raped did report the crime.

Mukhtar Mai came forward after a tribal council in the village of Meerwala, about 350 miles southwest of Islamabad, ordered her gang-raped on June 22 as punishment against her family after her teenage brother allegedly had sex with a woman from another clan.

Mai not only reported the attack to police — a bold move, especially in remote, rural areas where a deeply conservative form of Islam is practiced — but also stepped forward to speak about the attack to local media.

The case drew international attention, and the six men were sentenced to hang. They are appealing.

In its 2002 report, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan estimated that 70 percent to 90 percent of women in the country of some 145 million people suffer some kind of domestic violence.

The human rights report also said 416 women were known to have been slain last year in "honor killings," in which family honor is upheld for a woman's perceived moral misbehavior by handing down a death sentence.

The misconduct may range from extramarital sex to just talking to men outside the family. Some are punished for being raped or for cooking poorly.

"Particularly alarming," the report said, "was the soaring rate of cases of mutilation by pouring of acid over women," a crime that scarred them both emotionally and physically forever.
  • Sue Chan

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