Azim Mai’s husband allegedly threw acid in her face last year after she refused to sell their two boys to a man in Dubai to use as camel racers. The 35-year-old mother of five can no longer find work as a maid because her deeply scarred face scares potential employers.
Acid burnings are among the most horrific crimes against women in Pakistan that are now criminalized in a landmark set of laws passed by the parliament. They stand to protect millions of women from common forms of abuse in a conservative, Muslim country with a terrible history of gender inequality.
“This is a big achievement for the women of Pakistan, civil society and the organizations that have been working for more than 30 years to get women-friendly bills passed,” said Nayyar Shabana Kiyani, who has lobbied for the legislation as part of the Aurat Foundation, a women’s rights group.
“We can’t really get good results until the laws are implemented at the grassroots level,” she added.
The two bills containing the new laws, which received final approval from the Pakistani Senate on Monday, stiffened the punishment for acid attacks and criminalized practices such as marrying off young girls to settle tribal disputes.
Last year, at least 8,000 acid attacks, forced marriages and other forms of violence against women were reported, according to the Aurat Foundation.
The new laws explicitly criminalized acid attacks and mandated that convicted attackers would serve a minimum sentence of 14 years that could extend to life and pay a minimum fine of about US$11,200.
Other new laws mandate a minimum prison sentence of three years for forcing a woman to marry, including to settle tribal disputes, and five years for preventing a woman from inheriting property.
Mai, the acid attack victim who also has three daughters, was happy with the passage of the laws, but favored even harsher punishment, including for her husband.
“I am happy over the passage of this bill, but I will only be satisfied when authorities throw acid in the face of my husband,” she said.