Sunday, August 15, 1999

Women burned in acid attacks to get care here

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Two young women from Bangladesh whose faces were heavily scarred by sulfuric acid attacks plan to travel to Cincinnati in early September to be treated at Shriners Burns Institute.

        One of the women, 17-year-old Bina Akhter, has been the subject of considerable media attention, including a feature in the June edition of Ms. magazine, a piece on National Public Radio and a yet-to-air segment on the television show 20/20.

        Women's groups say acid attacks are a rising problem in Bangladesh. In many cases, the attackers have been men seeking revenge after being rejected as potential husbands. Sometimes, husbands have mutilated their wives in anger over dowries they felt were too small.

        Acid attacks have been reported since 1976, with 130 cases cited in Bangladesh newspapers in 1998, Ms. magazine reported.

        Ms. Akhter and another 17-year-old woman named Jharna — both from the Bangladesh capital of Dhaka — are scheduled to meet doctors at Shriners Sept. 7, said hospital spokeswoman Louise Hoelker. The hospital did not have a last name for Jharna.

        Ms. Akhter was so severely wounded by the acid that she lost an eye, along with much of her nose and her upper lip. She had several surgeries in Bangladesh, but is traveling here for more extensive reconstructive surgery.

        Jharna's face also was mutilated, but less severely, Ms. Hoelker said.

        Both women are expected to stay in the Greater Cincinnati area for several months while awaiting surgery and follow-up care. The surgeries have not been scheduled but could happen in November or December, Ms. Hoelker said.

        Travel expenses and living arrangements for the two women are being handled by Healing the Children, an international charity that seeks high-tech care for children from developing nations.

        “Throwing of sulfuric acid on the face and body of young females has become an increasingly popular way of expressing anger or frustration by jilted men,” wrote Dr. Kaniz Siddiqui, a Cincinnati physician who has been working to bring the women here for treatment, in a letter to the Enquirer.

        Sulfuric acid has become a popular weapon of abuse in part because it is easy to get from lead-acid car batteries, and because the wounds the acid inflicts can be symbols of shame.

        Bangladesh, a mostly Islamic nation of more than 127 million people, is located in South Asia on the north shore of the Bay of Bengal, tucked between India and Burma.

        Only recently has the nation's court system taken a tough stand on the acid attacks, Dr. Siddiqui wrote.

        In May, a jilted suitor and three accomplices were sentenced to death after being convicted of throwing acid on the faces of a bride and her husband.


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