Bangladesh women, children bear scars of acid attacks
A matching headband conceals her left ear, badly deformed, and the only obvious sign she is a victim of an acid attack, a practice rampant in the impoverished country, used mainly in domestic disputes and against women and children.
Dhaka -- At first glance, Bably Akter looks like any other nine-year-old Bangladeshi girl, dressed in a brightly coloured pink and turquoise skirt and top trimmed with silver sequins.
A matching headband conceals her left ear, badly deformed and the only obvious sign she is the victim of an acid attack, a practice rampant in the impoverished country, used mainly in domestic disputes and against women and children.
As her mother, Parul, recounts the story of how Bably's father put drops of acid on different parts of her body every day for five days when she was a baby, the little girl lifts her skirt to reveal a large scar on her legs and feet.
"Her father wanted a son," Parul, 26, said. "He'd been violent towards me before Bably was born but it was not until day five, when he actually fed her acid I realised something was seriously wrong."
She complained to the police but charges were never filed.
"We ran away and spent two years at the Acid Survivors' Foundation (ASF) hospital where Bably had a lot of plastic surgery on her mouth. She still needs more operations."
With her broad grin and her love of dancing, Bably speaks about her dreams of one day becoming a doctor to help others in the South Asian nation.
"She says she doesn't remember what happened but sometimes she cries for no reason, her speech is a little bit impaired and she gets teased at school," Parul said.
The Dhaka-based ASF says most victims of acid attacks bear obvious physical scars, which make them pariahs. Bably is one of the lucky ones.
Efforts in Bangladesh in recent years to curb the practice mean cases are slowly declining, but human rights campaigners say acid remains too easy to buy.
"Acid throwing is rampant in the southern and northern parts of Bangladesh where it is used for dying the fishing nets and in the handloom industry," said ASF doctor Imtiaz Bahar Choudhury.
Last year, 179 people -- three-quarters of those women and children -- were victims of acid violence in Bangladesh, with 20 cases already recorded for 2009, according to the ASF.
The most common reasons for the attacks are disputes over property and dowry payments, and unrequited love where spurned suitors try to disfigure women who reject them.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said this week one woman in five around the globe has been a victim of rape or attempted rape and that in some countries, one woman in three has been beaten or subjected to some kind of violent act.
"Violence against women is an abomination. I'd like to call it a crime against humanity," Ban said ahead of International Women's Day on Sunday.
The last major study into domestic violence in Bangladesh found that about 60 percent of women had been physically or sexually abused.
About 19 percent of those had experienced severe physical violence, defined as being hit with a fist or object, kicked or dragged, beaten up, choked, burnt or threatened with a weapon.
Poverty, especially hunger, played a significant role in determining the degree and frequency of violence against women at home in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, where 40 percent of people live below the poverty line.
The theme of this year's International Women's Day on March 8 is "women and men united to end violence against women and girls."