Daniel Junge

Reconstructing Beauty: ‘Saving Face’ in Pakistan

Battery acid doesn’t leave much of a face behind apart from two holes for a nose, and if they’re lucky the sight in one eye might be saved.

This is the harsh reality for the many people, mostly women, who suffer acid attacks in Pakistan. There were 150 attacks counted in 2011, which was nearly double the number in the previous year.

Academy award-winning documentary ‘Saving Face’ takes a brave look at the women who have lived through the trauma of acid attacks and the uphill struggle to bring their attackers to justice.

The story follows the courageous British-Pakistani plastic surgeon Dr. Mohammad Jawad as he travels to Pakistan to try and reconstruct some of the acid attack victims’ faces. He helps them to treat the pain, heal their wounds and gain enough confidence to step into the world again.

Acid Attacks

Throwing battery acid or setting alight to acid have become common methods of attack in Pakistan and other South Asian countries, where the acid is cheap and readily available for farming purposes. Cases are also increasing in Thailand, Cambodia, Uganda and Colombia.

The number of people who actually die from the attacks are very low, but the victims are scarred for life and forced to hide from society.

Those who carry out the acid attacks, who are often husbands or other family members, try to pin the blame on the victims for bringing dishonour to the family in some way.

One particularly sad case saw a 15 year-old girl killed by acid by her parents, claiming that she looked too much like a boy.

Honour-based crimes, that happen predominantly in South Asian and Middle Eastern countries, have been the cause of forced marriages, honour-killings and increasingly acid attacks.

Though Pakistan passed laws making violence against women illegal, the full Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Act is still in draft form.

Bangladesh, which used to be infamous for its high acid attack numbers, has managed to dramatically reduce incidents. In 2002, it tightened acid storage, use and sale regulations. The attackers’ punishments can be around 40 years in prison without bail, and since the law was passed, acid attacks have reduced by 15% per year.

Behind the Scenes

Daniel Junge at the Frontline Club showing of 'Saving Face' in London.

Daniel Junge at the Frontline Club showing of ‘Saving Face’ in London.

The film ‘Saving Face’ is directed by Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, who bravely tackles this controversial topic despite being at risk throughout the making of the film.

During the documentary, Sharmeen visits one of the husbands who threw acid over his wife in prison. As the prison guards and other men surround her in a threatening manner, she continues to bombard him with questions.

In a discussion after the London showing of ‘Saving Face’ at the Frontline Club, the two directors asked the room of journalists what they thought about the duty of a documentary-maker to advocate for those in their film. They expressed that filming a documentary that makes a change is different from making a documentary and advocating for change.

A number of charities exist in order to raise awareness of acid attacks and to support the victims. The Katie Piper Foundation and the Acid Survivors’ Trust International are some of the UK based ones.

The full documentary is being shown on Wednesday 16th January 2013 on Channel 4 at 22:00. This film begs to be seen.