A film documenting the effort to stop this brutal practice won an Oscar last week.
Mohammad Jawad, a subject of the documentary Saving Face, with a patient who has suffered acid burns on her face / Naked Edge Films
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In a feel-good moment for Pakistan, a native daughter won an Academy Award last week - a first for the country. Sharmin Obaid-Chinoy, 33, took home the Oscar, along with her co-director, Daniel Junge, for their documentary "Saving Face." The film tracks the heroic work of a British plastic surgeon, Dr. Muhammad Jawad, who tries to rebuild the faces, and lives, of Pakistani women who have been terribly disfigured by an acid attack. Every year in Pakistan, about 100 cases of acid attacks are reported to the police, but many more go unreported. These are usually intimate crimes, perpetrated by family members, often vindictive husbands, but also disgruntled mother-in-laws. The victims tend to be young women who have displeased in some way - perhaps producing a daughter instead of a son; or not doing the mother-in-law's bidding. Some die, but many are left with horrific deformities that often render them blind, unable to eat or to carry on a normal life.
In 2011, Pakistan passed a stringent law to punish perpetrators, and the determined and courageous lawyers, activists, and legislators behind the bill are woven into the documentary. As acid attack survivors watched the proceedings, the Pakistan Senate unanimously passed the Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill, which imposes on perpetrators a prison sentence of 14 years to life and a fine of up to $11,160. However, it is too soon to say whether Pakistan will rigorously enforce the bill. While Pakistan is eagerly embracing the film's success, it is still not yet scheduled for release in the country. As Chinoy explained, "We're going to try to find the best possible way to show the film while ensuring that the women in the film are safe." American audiences can see it on HBO on March 8th.