The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Husbands spew acid venom
Sakeena (left) with Shaheena. (Reuters)
Zahid Nawaz. (Reuters)

Ahmedpur Sharqia (Pakistan), June 6 (Reuters): Shaheena moans in pain as the fierce summer heat sears her skin. She can no longer see and her once pretty face is horrifically disfigured.

The 15-year-old from Punjab province is one of the hundreds of Pakistani women who fall victim each year to acid attacks perpetrated by jealous husbands or rejected suitors or as plain acts of revenge.

For many victims, death would be less painful than living with pain and the humiliation of disfigurement.

Shaheena’s nightmare began when the husband of her elder sister, Sakeena, threw acid over them after a row in November. Sakeena suffered 70 per cent burns but her face was largely spared.

Shaheena was hit full in the face and blinded. Her wounds have still not properly healed and a terrible burning sensation returns every day with a maddening itching.

“I wish I had died that day,” Sakeena said in the one-room house in which they live in the small town of Ahmedpur Sharqia, 530 km south of Islamabad.

“I was sitting with my sister. He just stood there and looked at us for two minutes and then poured the acid.” She said her sister’s life had been ruined. “Who will marry her in this condition' Who will take her' Her face has been destroyed.”

The pain of their injuries is bad enough, but the sisters have worse worries. Sakeena’s husband is in prison awaiting trial, but they still have to live in his house. They have nowhere else to go and are under constant pressure from his relatives to drop the charge against him and preserve their marriage.

“I have no brother, no father,” Sakeena said.“The whole family is behind him, urging us to settle. They say what has happened has happened, forgive him and return to your life.”

Rights activists say acid attacks are among the worst of the huge numbers of crimes against women committed in Pakistan, a male-dominated Islamic state where the human rights commission estimates a woman is raped every two hours.

“Burning is the most brutal crime,” said Shahnaz Bukhari, head of the Progressive Women’s Association, a non-governmental organisation helping acid burn victims. “If a woman survives, she is alienated from society, children look at her as if she is an ugly witch.”

Bukhari blamed “this possession feeling in our society”. “The phenomena ingrained in our males’ minds is that ‘I am God on earth’.” The rights commission says, as well as huge numbers of rapes, hundreds of women fall victim every year to “honour killings” in which close male relatives kill a woman to avenge perceived shame she has brought to the family.

This can range from having an affair to choosing a husband without the family's consent.

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