England squad meet acid attack victim during Bangladesh tour

England captain Alastair Cook and his team-mates met a female victim of an acid attack during his team’s tour of Bangladesh on Tuesday.

Cricketers are often described as brave. They are praised for their courage in fending off bouncers, for fielding at short leg or, in the case of the current England team, for even setting foot in Bangladesh.

But this week England’s players saw the true face of bravery, one that cricketers living in the bubble of professional sport rarely see at first hand.

For 10 minutes, at a reception in a small room at the British High Commission in Dhaka, a Bangladeshi woman called Tahmina, her face visibly scarred by multiple reconstructive operations, shared with the team her story of being one of more than 3,000 acid-attack victims in her home country.

Captain Alastair Cook, his players, and the England management were given an insight into life in Bangladesh beyond the five-star hotels where they have lived on this tour, shielded from the outside world by machine guns and armoured vehicles.

Tahmina was one of four speakers from different projects funded by UK aid in Bangladesh through the Department for International Development. She described her experience as an acid attack survivor and the players were able to ask questions.

“Everyone here is very brave to be talking about the stories and it takes a lot of courage and conviction to talk about something which is obviously so horrendous,” said Cook.

“He is a very brave boy,” says Selina Ahmed, the foundation’s executive director. “He has had many operations but he is going to school now. When he first went, he was bullied by other children but he is in third grade and doing well.”

There are 14 beds for women, six for men. Many of the attacks occur in poor areas where education is minimal. The England team were told one of the foundation’s main targets is to educate men against committing such acts and to lobby government for tougher laws. A total of 14 death sentences have been handed down to acid attackers in Bangladesh, and 117 have been given life sentences. While money from the UK has helped 4.4 million women and girls access security and justice services.

The acid suppliers can also be punished. They are now legally bound to record who buys it and for what purpose. It is used widely for dying clothing in the garment industry or jewellery making.

The work of the Acid Survivors Foundation is making a difference. The number of attacks has dropped from a high in 2002 of 496 to 58 last year. So far, in 2016 there have been 36 attacks, eight were recorded last month.

The local publicity created by the England team’s talk with an acid attack survivor also helps to ensure the debate continues in Bangladesh, where cricketers are front-page news. “They are ambassadors on behalf of us,” says Selina.

The foundation plans to approach the Bangladesh Cricket Board to see if the team could wear their logo on their shirts at some point to help raise awareness; in the meantime, every little act – even just one of listening to survivors’ stories – can make its own difference.

The England squad was joined by their support staff, and ECB chief executive Tom Harrison, at the British High Commission in Dhaka to help highlight the devastating effects of acid attacks on women in the Asian nation.

They listened intently as the victim of an acid attack and a domestic abuse survivor, among others, addressed what had happened to them and how they went on to become community leaders in an effort to prevent violence against women.

All four speakers are the beneficiaries of United Kingdom funded programmes and they answered several questions from England players and staff before the gesture was reciprocated.

More than 80 per cent of women in Bangladesh experience physical or mental abuse during their marriage and acid attacks continue to be a source of concern, according to the Department for International Development, which is responsible for administering overseas aid.

So far in 2016, a total of 42 individuals have been affected by an acid attack, although that figure is down significantly from a peak of 496, 14 years ago.

Harrison said: “I’m pleased the England cricket team had the opportunity to learn more about the Department for International Development’s work in Bangladesh.”

“We have been left in no doubt that the UK’s efforts in supporting victims of violence, particularly acid attacks that sadly see such prominence in the country, are changing lives and giving those affected the physical and psychological support they so desperately need.

“I am sure the visit, which was organised in conjunction with the British High Commission in Dhaka, has been a moving and educational experience for the players.”

International Development Secretary Priti Patel added: “Countries like Bangladesh have made great improvements to the lives of girls and women in recent years, but many people still face a daily threat of severe and debilitating domestic violence.”

“Cowardly acid attacks are utterly unacceptable. They cause great suffering and hold back entire communities from reaching their full potential.

“I am very grateful to the England cricket team for taking the time to highlight the vital work my department is doing in this area. We will continue to work with local organisations to provide medical support and secure justice for victims, while reducing the vulnerability of girls and women in the future.”
 (The Telegraph)

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