A resolution declaring acid attacks on women to be equivalent to attempted murder was unanimously approved in the provincial assembly of the eastern province of the Punjab, according to a woman legislator.
"The resolution calls for an acid-throwing crime to be considered as a murder attempt. It also calls for free legal aid to be given to the victims, and for rehabilitation centres to be established so that the victims can be looked after. I have also asked for the sale and storage of acids to be licensed," Humaira Awais Shahid, a member of the Punjab provincial assembly, told IRIN from the Punjabi capital, Lahore, on Thursday. "Acid attacks have never been recognised as a crime," Shahid said.
Women’s and human rights groups have greeted the bill with cautious optimism.
"I am happy she has presented such a resolution, but it will only be significant if the law is passed," Shahnaz Bukhari, the head of the Progressive Women’s Association, told IRIN on Thursday in the capital, Islamabad.
Her view was shared by Kamila Hyat, the joint chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). "Any sort of legislation is positive. But legislation is often very poorly implemented. We hope it will be followed up," Hyat told IRIN from Lahore.
"Acid attacks are on the increase, primarily in southern Punjab. In the last two years, there has been a 200 percent increase in the number of women who have had acid thrown on them," Shahid said.
According to Hyat, there were nine reported cases in 2001, 56 cases in 2002 and, for 2003, by June there have been 32 cases that HRCP is aware of. Hyat believes that one explanation for the increase is the "copycat phenomenon". "People are seeing the crime go unpunished and believe that they too can do it with no repercussions," she said.
Bukhari believes that the easy availability of acid is also causing more attacks. "A bottle [of acid] for 20 rupees [US $0.35] can ruin the life of a woman," Bukhari stressed. In Punjab, acid is used by farmers for the soaking of seeds.
Bukhari said she wanted to see hospitals made accountable for reporting cases. "It should be the duty of hospital management to bring cases to the knowledge of the media and police. It should be an automatic system," she asserted.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions