By: Myra Imran
ISLAMABAD: As comprehensive draft bill on acid throwing ‘Acid and Burn Crime Bill’ still awaits its approval in capital as well as in provinces, data available with Acid Survivors Foundation shows that around 50 cases of acid burn have been reported in different parts of the country since January.
Acid burn is an extreme form of violence that harms victims both physically and psychologically and results in their social marginalisation and stigmatisation. In Pakistan, 70 per cent of its victims are women and girls.
In Pakistan, the acid and burn legislation aiming at eradicating acid and burn violence was proposed after Naila Farhat’s case was taken to the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 2009. It was the first acid attack case reaching this level of jurisdiction in the history of Pakistan, the victim won the case and it was followed by a suo moto action of the Chief Justice, Iftikhar Chaudry, in November 2009, who consequently advised or requested Pakistani parliamentarians to legislate on acid and burn violence on the model of the Bangladeshi law.
In view of this decision, the Pakistani civil society initiated a campaign in collaboration with the then Federal Ministry of Women Development, Federal Ministry of Human Rights, parliamentarians, UN agencies, legal and medical experts, media, the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) and acid survivors themselves, that initially resulted in the drafting of a comprehensive Acid and Burn Crime Prevention Bill.
This comprehensive bill was submitted to the then Federal Ministry of Women Development in July 2010. However, the Federal Ministry of Women Development did not follow up actively on this comprehensive legislation for acid and burn crime and meanwhile, Marvi Memon tabled a private member bill in May 2010 in the National Assembly that was entitled the Acid and Burn Crime Prevention Bill. Hence, the legislative process became quite confusing due to a private member bill and approval of 18th Amendment, the Pakistani civil society along with parliamentarians, UN agencies, legal and medical experts, media, the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) and acid survivors opted for an inclusive and consensual 3 steps legislation apparel that was inspired from the Sexual Harassment legislation Including amendment in the PPC, comprehensive legal mechanism and complementary law for acid distribution and sale i.e. acid Control Bill.
On December 12, 2011, those synergetic and participatory efforts led to the unanimous passage of Marvi Memon’s private member bill: the Criminal Law Amendment Act 2011, by the senate. “However, the civil society insisted from December 13, 2011 onwards that it was only the first step of a more comprehensive legislative apparel and that more efforts and action from the government and the legislators would be required to also pass the comprehensive Acid and Burn Crime Bill along with the Acid Control Bill at provincial level,” said Acid Survivors Foundation Chairperson Valerie Khan while talking to ‘The News’.She said that while the Criminal Law Amendment Act 2011, specifically makes acid and burn violence a crime against the state, imposes a Rs 1 million fine on the perpetrator and grants a punishment of minimum 14 years to life time imprisonment, it is also important to address other aspects of the crime that cannot be part of a simple amendment in the Pakistani Penal Code including investigation process (protection to victims, witnesses, delay of investigation), trial process (type of court and trial duration), rehabilitation and legal aid services to victims, funding and monitoring mechanisms, regulation of distribution and sale of acid.
Providing an update on the current status of ‘Acid and Burn Crime Bill 2012,’ she said in ICT, the bill was tabled in the National Assembly on December 18, 2012. “It is now lying with the Standing Committee of Interior. It has now officially become the property of the NA but the legislative process will have to be reinitiated with the new government.”
In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the increase in the notifications of acid attacks from KP-FATA within the last 4 months on 2012 (10 cases in total) finally convinced the KP government that the comprehensive Acid and Burn Crime Bill had to be passed.
The Provincial Commission on the Status of Women along with the civil society and Women Development Department-KP, media and parliamentarians reviewed the comprehensive bill that has now been forwarded to KP law department. The KP government planned to table this comprehensive bill as a government bill in January 2013 session but nothing has been done till date.
In Punjab, the comprehensive acid and burn crime bill has been submitted to the Women Development Department and discussed with the Punjab Law Department, till date however, no comprehensive bill has been tabled in the Provincial assembly. A board has been established in December 2012 to provide medical and psychological care to acid survivors.
In Sindh, Balochistan, Kashmir, Gilgit Baltistan, no further action has been taken with regard to the comprehensive Acid and Burn Crime Bill.
“If certain legal steps have been welcome such as inclusion of burn victims in the list of eligible beneficiaries for the Fund for Women in Distress, and if Punjab currently requests to try acid attack cases under Anti Terrorists Courts (ATC), no “half mending” will be effective enough to counter acid violence in Pakistan. Apart from awareness and sensitisation campaigns to generate behavioral change, a full fledge legislative apparel setting the norm which does not depend on political decisions and leaders but which is engraved into the legal framework of the country and which is adequately enforced, is imperative to make Pakistan an acid violence free country,” said Valerie.