Asia’s Shame: Acid Attacks
Every year, about 1500 people are attacked with acid. Most are in Asia.
Rinku, 19, survived a burn attack six months after her forced marriage. Her sister in-law was jealous of her beauty and her mother in-law disagreed with the dowry that was promised. Rinku is just one of 250-300 women and girls in Bangladesh who become officially reported victims of acid attacks or domestic burns each year. Unofficially, the number may be significantly higher. After the incident, Rinku divorced her husband and moved with her parents to another village. She has come to visit her uncle’s home in Gopalganj, where she used to live.
Hope is what carries Rinku to the Emirates Floating Hospital in Northern Bangladesh. The hospital was opened in 2008 by the Bangladeshi organization Friendship. The NGO Women for Women informed Rinku of a group of female plastic surgeons who had come for a week-long mission to operate on victims like her. Together with her brother and father she takes a two-day journey to reach the hospital.
The plastic surgeons from the Women for Women team release severe burn contractures to the right side of her neck and make an ear reconstruction.
Despite the reconstructive efforts at restoring some semblance of normalcy to her face, Rinku will likely remain physically scarred for life.
Neehaari has undergone two operations, thanks to Women for Women, a team of plastic surgeons collaborating with the renowned local surgeon Dr. Lakshmi. Now that she is able to move freely her arms again and take care of herself, Neehaari is combing her hair, getting ready to go out.
Api, 17, had recently arrived at the Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF) after her husband threw acid on her. She has just emerged from her first intensive care treatment.
Hajera, 22, was attacked with acid by her husband five years ago. She has been receiving treatment and psychological support from the ASF ever since. In February this year, her family found her a new husband.
Anguri, 36 and mother of two. In 1998, her husband threw acid over her after the families had an ongoing dispute about the dowry that had been arranged. Her husband was also having an affair with another married woman. He hoped that by killing Anguri with acid, he would be able to marry his lover. He remains free, never even charged. Anguri was brought by her neighbors to the district hospital. She subsequently received intensive care for almost two years in the burns unit of the medical hospital in Dhaka, with the help of the Acid Survivors Foundation. Her serious burns could be treated, but she lost the sight on both eyes. Following the sudden death of Anguri’s mother in 2011, her 11-year-old daughter Popy now needs to care for both herself and her younger brother. Anguri can no longer work, and has no family to care for her. The Acid Survivors Foundation is providing emotional and economical support for her and her children.
Taslima, 35, was attacked by her husband with acid in 2002, while asleep on her bed with her 2-year-old daughter Aisha by her side. The family members were not aware of the seriousness of acid and so it was not until the next morning that mother and child were taken to her hospital. She was immediately transferred to the burns unit at the Medical Hospital of Dhaka for intensive care. After three months, Taslima returned to her village, only to be shunned. With the help of the Acid Survivors Foundation, she managed to buy a house, but this only provoked jealousy within her family, who wanted to confiscate the dwelling for their own use. Today Taslima works as a care-giver for new acid survivors arriving at the ASF. Thanks to the financial and emotional support of that local organization she has been able to send Aisha to a boarding school, where she is no longer victimized due to her disfiguration.
Shomfa Islam, 35, with her husband Amul Islam. Following a dowry dispute, she was attacked by her in-laws. Her husband stayed with her. They started a family and have three sons.
The throwing of acid onto the face, which almost invariably leaves permanent physical and psychological scars, is a worldwide phenomenon, but it is particularly prevalent in Asia. Women, many of them still children, are especially at risk.
In this photo essay, Ann-Christine Woehrl documents the stories of a number of victims of acid attacks in Bangladesh, which has the highest reported incidence of acid assault in the world. Many of the victims are subsequently shunned by society. Some receive assistance from the
Acid Survivors Foundation.