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Pakistan acid attack parents speak of remorse

* HRCP says nearly 600 of 943 women killed for ‘honour’ last year were accused of ‘illicit relations’

KHOI RATTA: A Pakistani couple who killed their daughter by dousing her in acid for looking at boys spoke on Tuesday of their regret at the attack which has highlighted the ‘honour killings’ that cost hundreds of women their lives each year.

The parents threw acid over 15-year-old Anusha at their home in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) on Monday last week after seeing her looking at boys. The girl died in agony two days later after suffering 70 percent burns, according to doctors.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said nearly 600 of the 943 women killed for ‘honour’ last year were, like Anusha, accused of ‘illicit relations’ and many were raped or even gang-raped before they were murdered.

Out of the 943, only 20 were given medical treatment before they died, according to the commission.

Many killings are passed off as suicide and fail to make headlines, but Anusha’s death came less than a month after Taliban extremists tried to murder schoolgirl activist Malala Yousafzai, prompting worldwide condemnation.

Both parents were arrested on murder charges last week.

Anusha’s mother Zaheen Akhtar, speaking from her police cell in Khoi Ratta, 140 kilometres away from Muzaffarabad, said she feared for the future of the rest of her children.

“I deeply regret my action. I am repenting as I should not have done this. She was very innocent,” the 42-year-old mother of eight told AFP.

“My remaining children, including four girls and two boys, all under 10 years of age, have been left alone and they have nobody out there to look after them,” she said.

Akhtar said she and husband Muhammad Zafar had feared Anusha would follow in the footsteps of her elder sister.

They married the elder sister off at 16 “because people had been talking about her bad character” and she had cut off contact after moving to Karachi with her husband.

Anusha, a promising and popular student, had committed the crime of looking at two boys riding a motorbike outside her home in Saidpur Phelan.

House painter Zafar, 53, said he became enraged and beat Anusha before his wife threw acid over her, but now he was haunted by memories of the attack.

“We were upset by the character of our elder daughter and feared that Anusha might follow in her footprints,” he said.

“Anusha’s mother should not have done this. I cannot sleep and whenever I shut my eyes, I see Anusha’s burnt face.”

The parents waited two days to take Anusha to hospital, but Zafar insisted this was simply because they could not afford to take her until a local doctor gave him some money.

Local police official Tahir Ayub said there was no truth in the parents’ suggestion that Anusha’s character had been questioned.

“She was very innocent. They did this because of sheer backwardness,” he told AFP.

Pakistan’s parliament last year adopted tougher penalties for acid attacks, increasing the punishment to between 14 years and life, and a minimum fine of one million rupees.

But attacks to save what is seen as family honour remain a particular problem in poor and rural areas of Pakistan.

In the absence of material wealth, concepts of honour and preserving the family’s good name are highly valued.

Women are often treated as second-class citizens and even the slightest transgression that might bring the family’s name into disrepute can lead to brutal punishment.

Police officer Ayub said Anusha was the third ‘honour killing’ in his district in the past month. A 40-year-old woman was burned to death by her husband and a 25-year-old killed by her brother – both for suspicion of ‘illicit relations’, like Anusha.

With their big sister dead and their parents locked up, the couple’s six remaining children wonder not about who will defend the family honour, but who will look after them.

“We were asleep when this happened and only came to know about it the next morning,” one of the bewildered youngsters told AFP at the family home.

Daily Times