ASIA: Vitriolage — the horror and injustice of acid attacks 

Baseer Naveed and Stewart Sloan

“Acid will be thrown on the faces of women and girls who step out of their houses without covering their faces… People who fail to comply with these orders will themselves be responsible for the consequences.”

This was the announcement made by the Baloch Ghaeratmand Group; until recently a little known fundamentalist group in Pakistan that has carried out their threat on several occasions. Their attacks have resulted in the victims suffering inhuman pain and unimaginable mental anguish. Despite strikes by the citizens and demands that action is taken, the government has done nothing to bring the perpetrators to justice, nor have they done anything to prevent future attacks.

A recent press release by Women without Borders left no doubt as to the effects, both immediate and following an attack:

If the victim survives, the effects of acid attacks are life-changing. Acid burns through eyes, skin tissue, and bone. Usually, the victims are left blind and with permanent scar tissue. Their bones are often fused together—jawbones sealed tight, chins locked to chests, hands left permanently contorted in the position they held as they tried to deflect the splash. The psychological scars are even worse. Depression, anxiety, shame—these would be part of the emotional aftermath of any scarring injury, but victims of acid attacks are also often ostracized by their communities and even held responsible for incurring the attack they suffered.

Acid attacks, of which the victims are invariably women, happen in several countries of Asia. Sadly, very little is done to prevent them and even less to bring the perpetrators to justice. They are done for religious reasons and as acts of revenge and sometimes as acts of mischief. There were several recent incidents in Hong Kong when bottles of acid were thrown into crowded shopping areas from buildings overhead. The police reacted quickly and have arrested at least one man but it is feared that not all of the attacks were carried out by the same person.

In Thailand acid attacks are frequently the result of revenge attacks by housewives who are convinced that a certain lady is having an affair with her husband. In June 2007 a mother and daughter were charged with throwing acid in the face of a 23-year-old woman because they believed she was having an affair with the mother’s husband. Until legislation was introduced to control its sale, acids and other corrosive liquids could be purchased on the street. It is still available on the black market.

Asia and South East Asia however, are not alone in suffering these attacks. While the majority of attacks in Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are carried out for religious reasons, in the west it is usually for revenge. Regardless of where they happen, the attacks come without warning and there is little or no defence against them. The acids used, either hydrochloric or sulphuric, eat through clothes, flesh and bone almost instantly. The only course of action, which must be taken immediately, is to wash the affected areas with water. As most attacks happen in the street this is unlikely to happen, allowing the effects of the acid to run their course.

There are several organisations, international and local offering assistance to victims of acid attacks and these are listed below. The following poem by Airyn R. Lentija highlights the feelings of desolation known by the victim.


Airyn R. Lentija

Just as my scarred hands hold these rails
so the tiny drops
of my faith make me live, too.

I, who never asked for this blindness,
The scarring of my face and body that
erased my existence to the real world…

in fear of the stigma and of prejudice
that bubbles from the mouth
of the community I once belonged to.

I am a mother turned into a baby,
desperately dependent…

I am a teenager who forgets how it was to be a teenager…

I am a lively lady that used to enjoy the company of my peers…

A victim of vitriolage,

I am shunned now…
and relive the vivid memories that lift me
to another level of distress, of such agony,
that my mind almost shut down,
they called…

a psychologist for in-depth intervention,

A brilliant mind may give a hand
to restore my damaged skin tissue;
surgical treatment…

Yet I will never be free
from the memory of such pain,
such punishment
nor will I be Me again…

Note: This poem will also be published under the title: Testimony of Acid Attack Woman Victim.

The three pictures below show a victim before the attack, during treatment and more recently, tying hard to get on with her life.

Relevant organisations:

The Acid Survivors Foundation–Bangladesh–
The Acid Survivors Foundation—Pakistan–
The Acid Survivors Trust—Canada–
The Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity (CASC)–

Document Type : Article
Document ID : AHRC-ART-049-2010
Countries : Bangladesh, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand,
Issues : Violence against women, Women's rights,