Acid throwing - a serious human rights violation in Bangladesh

Tanbira Talukder

Since the world was created, women have been abused in many senses, physically, mentally, economically and so on. Recent statistics also show that domestic violence is present in all parts of the world; the Western world is not excluded. It is imperative to establish the rights of men and women fully.

In third world countries, women are mostly abused and neglected in the name of religion. As a Bangladeshi woman, I'll talk about the problem of Bangladeshi women. "Acid" is the name of the most dangerous curse now a days. Acid violence is among the grossest of human rights violations, and the goal of this examination is to focus the debate and the point of intervention in order to more effectively address the problem. What can be cruller to a human being than destroy one's own identity? Sometimes when we open a newspaper, we see some faces there which are so defiled, that it is difficult to believe that those are faces of a human being. Generally the women of poor class are the main victims of acid. Approximately 300 people in Bangladesh experience this attack each year, and 41 percent of victims are under the age of 18. People of the root level find it the cheapest and easiest way to take revenge. Acid is also an available element. 78 percent of reported acid violence happens to women, with the most common reasons for attack being the dowry problem, the conjugal problem, the refusal of marriage, the denial of sex, the rejection of romance and any kind of misunderstanding in a relationship even in family quarrel. By studying these cases, we see acid victims are mostly in the 10 – 30 age groups. Mostly when women are sleeping or going out for natural necessity, acid is thrown at them through open windows or from hiding places. A cup of acid, usually sulphuric acid poured from any car battery or purchased from auto repair shops, costs only a few cents, and is therefore a cheap and available weapon. Some perpetrators throw acid in an attempt to obtain the victim's land, believing that the family will be forced to sell their property in order to pay for medical treatment.

The most crucial part is acid attacks leave victims horribly disfigured because most attacks are directed at the face in order to permanently scar the victim and destroy her physical appearance. Victims don't die but they burn very badly. Sometimes, not only the flesh but the bones are also melted by this. Acid spreads either through the whole body or mostly in upper portion of the body. Often times, the victim is left blinded, deaf or dumb. This also breaks their courage to live and saps their will power to fight against this cruel society. It seems that those who die are relieved and those are alive die each day. They can have no normal life. Along with physical suffering, acid survivors have to deal with mental trauma as well. Many victims are frustrated, and some of them have suicidal tendencies. They need periodic counselling by trained psychotherapists to recover from the shock and frustration. Victims usually become depressed and are treated as outcasts by relatives, neighbours, and friends. Not only does the victim suffer, also, the whole family is suffers with her, equally, both mentally and socially.

Bangladesh is the country with the largest number of acid victims in the whole world. The weak judicial system is the biggest reason for this problem. Acid attackers mostly enjoy the poor structure of the law and also enjoy the social and judicial benefits. It takes very long to dismiss a case in Bangladesh. In year 2000 came the law under women and children custody, which said that the death sentence would be the highest penalty for an acid attacker. Criminals, however, take shelter in all sorts of gaps and weak parts of the law and remain free. Lots of people also say there should be also some regulation on selling acid. Not only should the acid thrower be punished, but also the acid seller (who is selling acid without permission) and also each other helpers in this purpose. Bangladesh still suffers from a poorly trained police force and a backlogged court system, both rife with corruption. Therefore, most perpetrators still go unpunished. If history is a lesson, a marked decrease in acid attacks will not occur until the Bangladeshi police and legal systems become more quick and effective, the prerequisite for which is probably a revolution at the heart of the Bangladeshi political system. . Due to poor promotion in the media and a lack of awareness in the people, most people are not aware of the law. As the legal system has not been able to hand out exemplary punishment to any acid attacker so far, attackers have little to fear. And the media needs to work more on this issue. Repeated broadcasts of punishment delivered would tell the public of recourse available to victims and warn potential acid attackers.

Because of this increasing problem, Dhaka Medical College has opened a separate "Burn Unit". This unit, created in the late 1990s, contains 8 beds and employs 3 plastic surgeons. It was the only burn facility in this country of 140 million people; therefore, it was frequently inaccessible to acid victims. But now Bangladesh has about four other hospitals, apart from the Dhaka Medical College, that can provide treatment to acid-attack victims.

There is no concrete medicine for this issue. The only method is washing the attacked place by using normal temperate water again and again. Victims need long-term as well as short-term care. Thanks to modern treatment facilities, cosmetic surgery is one of the solutions available. But because it remains a costly project, most victims have to wait for help from a welfare organization.  Private donors have been very actively helpful in supporting some of these organizations. Acid survivors are never cured completely. Even after extensive treatment gouges inevitably remain, making social reintegration and marriage very difficult.

The fact that acid survivors can never regain their original appearance has a severe impact on their social lives. It is tough for the victims to accept their new identities. Moreover, the working capabilities of acid victims drop significantly. Because of physical problems, such as the loss of their eyesight or hearing and the sensitivity of their skin to heat and sunlight, the victims can only do very limited types of jobs. Their income-generating power decreases. Young victims, meanwhile, have to stop going to school. Even after they have recovered, most of them cannot continue their studies because of their unstable physical conditions. They thus cannot develop skills that they could have fostered otherwise. Luckily the welfare organizations are doing lot more than only providing them treatment. They are also taking care of their rehabilitation in this society. They are trying to integrate them in society by providing  training such as poultry farming, handicrafts etc. The most delightful part of it is that some acid survivors have shown considerable progress in these activities.

Acid violence is yet another horrible chapter in the book of human rights abuses in Bangladesh. One especially positive aspect of efforts against acid violence among Bangladeshis, explains Dr. Morrison, "Bangladeshis are outright shocked and ashamed that the attacks happen here." A message must be sent to society that the state genuinely considers acid violence a heinous crime and that whoever takes part in the crime will be severely punished. To realise this aim, Bangladesh needs efficient law enforcement agencies and an effective judicial system to work together with the public to bring the perpetrators to justice.


Tanbira Talukder is a co-moderator of, a South Asian humanist forum. She is based in The Netherlands. E-mail: t[email protected]