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Friday, 8 March, 2002, 14:23 GMT
Bangladesh protest against acid attacks
Acid attack victim
Acid attacks are linked to a breakdown in law and order
test hello test
By Alastair Lawson
BBC correspondent in Dhaka
line
International Women's Day has been celebrated differently in Bangladesh.

Thousands of protesters, most of them men, turned out for a men-led march in the capital, Dhaka, on Friday to protest against acid attacks on women.

They are concerned that there has been a 50% increase in such attacks in 2001 compared to 2000.

Latest figures released by the Acid Survivors' Foundation, a prominent NGO which helps rehabilitate victims, show that there were 338 attacks carried out across Bangladesh last year.

The march was attended by numerous prominent male politicians from across the political spectrum.

Well-known celebrities and academics also took part.

'Unique'

Organisers say the event is unique in Asia and shows that Bangladesh is prepared to acknowledge the problem and takes active measure to combat it.


I don't think people realise before they carry out the attack quite what horrific injuries they will cause

Ron Hiles
Plastic surgeon
Acid attacks on women are carried out across Asia, with reports of such incidents from Burma, Cambodia, India and Pakistan.

"The reasons for the escalation in the number of acid attacks is linked to the general breakdown of law and order in Bangladesh," says Dr John Morrison, executive director of the Acid Survivors' Foundation.

"But at least the new government elected last year seems to be determined to do something about the problem. It has introduced laws in parliament that will make some acid attacks a capital offence, and has set up special courts which must prosecute all suspected acid throwers within 90 days of charges being framed.

"It has also introduced new laws to restrict the sale of acid," he says.

Public outrage

Organisers of the demonstration said that it was being held to show to the outside world that Bangladesh is a peaceful country where the vast majority of people are prepared to speak out against the horrific disfigurements caused by acid attacks.

Acid victim after plastic surgery
Even after surgery victims are terribly disfigured
Most of the victims - around 80% of whom are women - have had sulphuric or hydrochloric acid thrown in their faces.

The Prime Minister, Khaleda Zia, says that such attacks blacken the name of her country.

She says that she is determined to improve the rights of women, but critics say that her four-party coalition contains two hardline Islamic parties who are not renowned for their promotion of women's rights.

Bangladesh - with a population of 130 million people - is a conservative Muslim country where many people have traditionally regarded women as subservient to men.

Weapon of choice

The vast majority of acid attacks are carried out on women by jilted husbands or boyfriends. Some are angry that their advances have been rejected; in other cases it can be because of a domestic row such as a dispute over a dowry payment.

Protester
Protesters want to prove Bangladesh is peaceful

Experts say there is also evidence to suggest that more men and children are being attacked, too, and that acid may in some cases be replacing guns and knives as an instrument of attack.

"It's difficult to tell what it is that goes through the mind of someone who throws skin-burning acid over another human being," said Dr Ron Hiles, a British plastic surgeon who recently travelled to Bangladesh to treat acid attack survivors.

"There are all sorts of motivations, one of the prime ones being jealousy.

"But I don't think people realise before they carry out the attack quite what horrific injuries they will cause."

See also:

05 Feb 02 | South Asia
Bangladesh cracks down on acid attacks
30 Jan 02 | South Asia
Bangladesh acid attacks soar
12 Aug 01 | South Asia
Patrols against Kashmir acid attacks
30 Mar 98 | S/W Asia
Bangladesh approves new assault laws
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