by Syed Zainul Abedin, Naim-Ul-Karim
DHAKA, Oct. 23 (Xinhua) -- Acid attacks are still common in many parts of Bangladesh and the majority of victims are women, most of them below 20 years old.
Dowry, previous enmity, refusal in love proposal or marriage, land dispute and illicit extra-marital relationship are the main reasons behind such heinous crime in the impoverished nation of about 153 million people, mostly Muslims.
The incidents of acid attacks rose sharply in the 1990s in Bangladesh as there was no specific law to deal with the crime and regulate the sale of acids.
The good news is that the numbers of acid attacks in Bangladesh started plummeting in recent years although the overall situation still remains a matter of grave concern.
The number of acid attacks had reduced by over 74 percent to 91 in 2011 compared to 2001 and 2002 levels when the figures stood at 351 and 494 respectively, statistics from the Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF) revealed.
"Some 73 people were victimized in 52 incidents of acid attacks so far this year," the ASF said.
The main goal of the foundation is to create awareness and prevent acid attacks and to provide victims with medical and legal assistance.
After watching a television documentary on acid violence in Bangladesh, an Englishman, namely John Morrison, established the foundation in May 1999 in collaboration with United Nations Children's Fund and some Bangladesh's development partners.
"The majority of victims of acid violence are women and young girls. If you look at motive behind the violence, a large portion is because of land disputes. And even if the women are not direct beneficiaries of land they bore the brunt of the attacks because they are easy targets," Farina Ahmed, head of program of ASF, has recently told Xinhua.
In some cases, she said, it is also because a young girl or woman has spurned the sexual advances of a male or either she or her parents have rejected a proposal of marriage.
According ASF, there have been acid attacks on children, older women and also men in recent years. Women who have survived acid attacks have great difficulty in finding work and, if unmarried ( as many victims are), have very little chance of ever getting married.
Fatima said that most survivors of acid attacks experienced social isolation which affected their self-esteem and economic status. Most of the attacks occurred in the remote places of the country where sulfuric acid is easily available for variable uses, according to Farina.
"ASF is providing holistic support to survivors of acid victims. We run a hospital, where survivors are able to get constructive surgery or plastic surgery, and offer physiotherapy and counseling," Farina added.
According to Fatima, the foundation also helps victims to return to normal life. "We provide economic rehabilitation to victims either by giving them income generating support or job opportunity and also assistance for them to continue their studies, " she said.
Aside from the ASF, some private groups, such as the Prothom Alo, Bangladesh's leading Bengali daily, also joined in the campaign against acid attacks. In 2000, the paper established the Prothom Alo Aid Fund to help victims of acid attacks,
Farina said that they have launched the "Use Water Campaign" as part of raising awareness against acid attacks.
Afrina Sharmin, a senior medical officer at ASF, said there is no medicine that can reduce the effect of acid immediately after an attack and the only option is to use normal water in the burnt portion of body.
"We are campaigning what people need to do immediately after an attack. This is very important to let people know what to do. We mainly suggest people to pour water on the body for more than half an hour to reduce damage," Sharmin said.
Apart from killing, acid attacks usually maim and disfigure most of the survivors, leaving permanent scars and even blindness that can make daily life difficult for the victims, especially if the victim lives in a place with poor medical care and no social support.
Bibi Mariam, 45, said that her entire family was a victim of acid attacks in 2008. She said the attack claimed the life of her five-month old daughter while Mariam, her husband, and another daughter were badly burnt.
Some of her neighbors with whom Mariam's family had a land disputes, threw acid at Mariam, her husband and two daughters when they were asleep in the wee hours of a night at their village home in Rosulpur Island in coastal Bhola district, some 300 km southeast of capital Dhaka.
Mariam said that the attackers were out on bail after 21 months of imprisonment and they are now again threatening her family unless they agree to withdraw the case that they filed against the attackers.
Another acid victim Ruma Begum, who has recently got admitted at the ASF, said she was attacked by her cousin after she had turned down his romantic advances.
"He has threatened me several times with acid attack after I refused his advances," Ruma said.
After the incident, her attacker, Abul Kalam, managed to flee and has not been caught by police.