Baroness Verma has spoken of her “harrowing” visit to Bangladesh where acid attack victims who have been shunned from society are being supported by UK-funded projects.
The minister for international development journeyed to the country’s capital Dhaka in December, where she spoke to women left severely disfigured after being doused in acid in revenge attacks from spurned suitors.
She also met with people left disabled after the catastrophic Rana Plaza clothing factory collapse in 2013.
The Conservative peer has recently been appointed to the role of ministerial champion for tackling violence against women and girls overseas.
Baroness Verma witnessed firsthand the work of the Acid Survivors Foundation, which helps women to access medical and psychological support.
She told Eastern Eye: “The stories were quite harrowing. We saw these young girls and women, and there was no rhyme or reason behind having acid thrown over them apart from the fact that they had rejected a marriage proposal or somebody in the family.
“There was one case that comes to mind; a young woman was beautiful, she showed us a photo of herself before the attack and somebody had wanted to get married to her and she didn’t want to.
“So he had completely disfigured her by throwing acid all over her face, her upper arms and upper body. She was in her early 20s, had her whole life ahead of her.
“She was so brave in saying: ‘I don’t want to be in this (refuge) at all, I want to be out there leading a life’.
“All of the women wanted to be back in society but they had been rejected by families, so where do they go? The help we are giving them through British aid helps them.”
The UK government is the largest bilateral donor in Bangladesh and invested over £250 million in projects during 2013 to 2014.
Baroness Verma, who was born in the Punjab and came to the UK as a baby, explained that the Bangladeshi government had tried to make the availability of acid more difficult to buy in order to prevent further attacks.
However, she believes the emphasis should fall on shopkeepers to register customers purchasing the substance, which would serve as a deterrent.
The international development minister also spoke to disabled men and women who were being supported through the Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed, which provides free vocational training and rehabilitation support to help them back into society and to continue working. “There were victims of the Rana Plaza collapse,” she said.
“These people have got so much bravery going on, they don’t give up. It’s support that the British people are giving (them) that enables them to try and manage and make the best out of their lives.”