The number of acid violence incidents decreased by 98.38 per cent in 18 years from 2002 to June this year due to stringent laws, ample media coverage and other social campaigns against this form of violence, reveals recent data published by home ministry and Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF).
A total of 494 incidents of acid violence occurred in 2002 while only eight incidents have been recorded in the first six months of this year, according to the data.
Not only has the number of incidents decreased but also more victims have overcome the trauma and become active in various sectors.
Government and private data indicates that this crime fell significantly low due to the enforcement of two relevant laws. Nearly 1500 women and children became victims of acid violence till 2018. A total of 684 people were arrested over those incidents. Only 338 accused were awarded punishment while the remaining were acquitted due to lack of evidence and witnesses.
A total of 2147 cases were filed at the time against which 1270 charge sheets were submitted. Among them, final charge sheets for 860 cases were filed.
Experts say, the trials are delayed even though the number of crimes are reduced. According to the Acid Crime Prevention Act, 2002, the trial of the case must be finished within 90 working days. Home ministry records show, only 9 per cent of the accused have been convicted. Of those, 14 were sentenced to death, but none of these sentences have been carried out so far.
While the incidents of acid violence have decreased, the administration's active surveillance on the cases have been reduced as well. The home ministry sources said that a quarterly meeting of the National Acid Control Council had been set up to look into the cases, but there has not been a single such meeting in the past four years. District committee meetings should be held once every two months, but those are not being held regularly.
Home minister Asaduzzaman Khan said, “We are trying to take steps so that the accused are punished. Earlier acid was easily available. The government has taken stern measures in this regard. Besides, strict laws have been made. This has basically reduced acid violence.”
The Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF) has been working from 1999 to provide medical care, legal assistance, rehabilitation, and dignity to victims of acid violence. For the same purpose, the Prothom Alo Trust for women acid victims was formed in 2000. In addition, the government and various private organisations, including BRAC and ActionAid, have been working together to fight acid violence.
Marzir Akhter became a victim of an acid attack due to family feud in 2001. Different parts of her body, including her throat, were burned with acid. But even in hospital, she continued with her studies. Now she works as an assistant teacher of a government primary school in Kapasia, Gazipur. Marzia told Prothom Alo, “I didn’t want my life to stop. I wanted to spread light and am now doing that. I don't think about those things anymore.”
Shamima Akhter of Jhenaidah is working as designer at Grameen Check. Her husband burnt her with acid on the 11th month of their marriage. She can’t see with her right eye. Earlier she worked for the disabled. Speaking to Prothom Alo she said, “I didn’t think about physical beauty. I wanted to to do something with my life and establish myself and my dream has come true. Acid couldn’t burn my dreams.”
Shamima suffered the acid attack when she was an eighth grader in 1996. That put a stop to her studies. But with the help of Prothom Alo’s funds for acid-attack victims, Shamima completed her higher studies.
This is how many acid-victim women have brought positive changes to their lives and are working at BRAC, ASF, Grameen Check and many other large organisations. This has made them strong.
The founding director of Dhaka Medical College and Hospital’s Burn Unit Samantalal Sen has been working for the acid-attack victims since 1986. As a physician he has seen the victims very closely.
Recounting his experiences, Samantalal Sen told Prothom Alo, “Awareness has played the most important role in decreasing acid-violence. Only the victims’ mothers were beside those who sustained acid attacks earlier. Later we helped many acid-attack victims and organised awareness rallies in different districts.”
Prothom Alo’s fund for the acid-attack victims began with 32,000 taka, collected from a day’s salary of each of the Prothom Alo staff. Till date, 456 women have received help from this fund. Self-employment opportunities of were provided for 302 of them. Prothom Alo is still campaigning against acid violence with the slogan 'Let not a single more face be disfigured with acid'. The Foreign Correspondents Club, Hong Kong, bestowed Prothom Alo with the Gold Standard Award 2010 for its anti-acid attack campaign.
Prothom Alo editor Matiur Rahman received the Ramon Magsaysay Award 2005 for his contribution to journalism. His anti acid violence campaign was one of the factors behind his award.
Summit Group chairman Aziz Khan, education minister Dipu Moni, Persona’s managing director Kaniz Almas Khan and Berger Paint’s managing director Rupali Chowdhury have also been working for the acid-attack victims.
In response to how the number of victims of acid-attack was brought down to single digit, former executive director of ASF Selina Ahmed told Prothom Alo, “We had to work unitedly from the local to international level considering the issue a movement. Two strict acts and their implementation in thwarting pressure of influentials also played an important role in eradicating acid-violence. Besides ASF, the role of media, especially of Prothom Alo, also was a big help. Prothom Alo Trust is providing medical and legal assistance to the acid-attack victims and scholarships for their education.”
*The report, originally published in the print edition of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Farjana Liakat and Shameem Reza