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Acid attacks

An acid attack involves the premeditated throwing of acid on a victim, usually on her face. In addition to causing psychological trauma, acid attacks result in severe pain, permanent disfigurement, subsequent infections, and often blindness in one or both eyes. Perpetrators commit acid attacks for a number of reasons, including revenge for refusal of a marriage proposal or other romantic or sexual advances; land disputes; perceived dishonor; and jealousy.  While acid attacks are most prevalent in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India and Pakistan, they have also been reported in Afghanistan and in parts of Africa and Europe. Experts attribute the prevalence of the practice in part to the easy availability of acids. (See: Statistics, Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity; Good Practices on Harmful Practices Expert Group Report, p. 22)

  • Legislation addressing acid attacks should include the following elements:  
    • Legislation should define an acid attack as any assault perpetrated through the use of acid. Since acid attacks may be motivated by one of several different reasons, legislation should focus on the acts that constitute the crime, rather than the motive;
    • Legislation should penalize anyone who commits an acid attack, specifically including family members among those who may be penalized;
    • Legislation should penalize those who aid and abet this harmful practice, and should include family members among those who may be penalized;
    • Legislation should make acid attacks a “transferable intent” crime, providing the same penalties regardless of whether the person injured was the intended victim;
    • Legislation should provide for penalties of prison time, fines, and education;
    • Legislation should prohibit the acceptance of informal financial settlement or marriage as settlement of claims;
    • Legislation should provide that sentencing guidelines reflect the gravity of the offense;
    • Legislation should provide for enhanced penalties if a victim dies as a result of an acid attack. The perpetrator should be prosecuted under the murder statutes of the penal code. The specific law on the acid attack should provide a term of imprisonment and fine which is no less severe than what is provided under the murder statutes of the general penal code with the exception of capital punishment;
    • Legislation should provide that no mediation provisions are a part of legislation on acid attacks;
    • Legislation should regulate the export, import, use, sale, and waste management of acids;
    • Legislation should require sellers of acids to acquire licenses;
    • Legislation should criminalize the unlicensed sale of acids;
    • Legislation should require sellers of acids to create and maintain a record of each sale and the identity of each purchaser;
    • Legislation should require sellers of acid to take all necessary measures to ensure that their supplies of acid are not stolen and immediately report any stolen acid;
    • Legislation should impose a duty upon medical providers to report all cases of bodily harm caused by acid to law enforcement;
    • Legislation should mandate that police officers investigate any case reported by a medical provider where bodily harm was caused by acid;
    • Legislation should establish and fund public awareness campaigns and training for all sectors about this harmful practice and its consequences;
    • Legislation and other practices that perpetuate this harmful practice, such as honour crimes, should be amended or abolished;
    • Legislation should allow victims to pursue civil remedies against their attackers.  Monetary damages should include the cost of reconstructive surgery;
    • Legislation should provide for restitution or reparations separate from any criminal case and provide mechanisms of collection that the victim may easily use to collect the order for restitution from the perpetrator;
    • Legislation should also provide that a court may amend or issue an order for restitution at a later time if the true extent of the survivor’s loss was not known at the time of the hearing on the restitution request or at the time of disposition of the case; and
    • Legislation should provide legal, financial, medical, and other types of rehabilitation services for victims.
    • Legislation should provide legal support before and during the criminal trial of an acid attack and be extended to victims and witnesses who are threatened by perpetrators or associated parties;
    • Legislation should provide protective measures to prevent harassment, intimidation, or coercion of a victim or witness to drop charges against a perpetrator or associated party;
    • Legislation should provide for expert medical testimony in preparation of and during a criminal trial free of charge. Such expert medical testimony should be allowed in lieu of victim testimony but should not be a pre-requisite to pursuing a legal case against  a perpetrator.

(See: Good Practices on Harmful Practices Expert Group Report, pp. 22-23)

Example: Bangladesh’s Acid Crime Prevention Act (2002) and Acid Control Act (2002)

In 2002, the Bangladeshi Government passed two Acts, the Acid Control Act 2002 and the Acid Crime Prevention Act 2002. The Acts address punishment of those involved in the acid attack itself and restrict the import and sale of acid in open markets.

Some important features of the laws include:

  • Establishment of a National Acid Control Council Fund;
  • Establishment of a Rehabilitation Centre for victims of acid crimes;
  • Treatment for victims of acid crimes;
  • Provision of Legal Aid for victims of acid crimes;
  • Locking up shops to prevent the sale of acid and banning transport engaged in carrying acid;
  • Temporary cancellation of acid selling licenses;
  • Capital punishment of the acid thrower and penalty of up to Tk 1 lakh (approximately US$ 1,709);
  • Judgment in special tribunals;
  • Judgment in the absence of the criminal;
  • Power of the Magistrate to take record of witnesses anywhere.

(See: The UN Secretary-General’s database on Violence Against Women, Full text: Acid Control Act 2002 (Bengali), Acid Crime Prevention Act 2002 (Bengali))

Example:  Cambodia’s Law on Regulating Concentrate Acid (2011) and Cambodia’s Sub-Decree N.48 on Formalities and Conditions of Control of Strong Acid

The Cambodian Law on Regulating Concentrate Acid passed in November 2011 and came in to force December 2011. This law criminalizes acid violence provides regulations and controls for all forms of concentrate acid. The law provides an extensive definition of the term “concentrate acid” with an ability to supplement the list by sub-decree in the future. In addition, regulates the import, transport, distribution, retail, and storage of acid by requiring a license or permission letter issued by the relevant Ministry allowing such uses. In addition to criminalizing and individual’s intentional use of acid to harm or kill others, the law provides for the criminal liability of legal entities in relation to unintentional death or injury caused by the entities’ negligence or carelessness in securing the acid they possess. The law also directs state-owned health centers to provide medical treatment free of charge and indicates that the state will provide legal support for victims of acid attacks. 

In February 2013, the law was reinforced by Sub-Decree N.48 on Formalities and Conditions of Control of Concentrated Acid. Sub-Decree 48 is an additional document to the law and aims to clarify the formalities and conditions for sale, purchase, storage, transportation, packaging, carrying and use of all forms of strong acid. Provisions set forth requirements for sellers, distributors and purchasers of strong acids including, the   recording of all information on the purchase or sale in the register book and the presentation of an identification card and/or license or other authorization stating the professional occupation relevant to the use of strong acid. In order to prevent access to disposed of acid, the document also clarifies how to deal with waste and remains of packaging materials which was not defined in the main law.

 (See: Law on Regulating Concentrate Acid, Sub-Decree N.48 on Formalities and Conditions of Control of Concentrated Acid, Punishment fitting the crime: Effectively punishing and combatting acid violence in Cambodia through the creation and enforcement of a law).

Punishment Fitting the Crime: Effectively punishing and combatting acid violence in Cambodia through the creation and enforcement of a law , Cambodian Center for Human Rights - January 2012

Ending the Cycle of Impunity for Acid Crimes in Cambodia,Cambodian Center for Human Rights - May 2012

Example: Pakistan’s Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Act, 2010 and The Acid Throwing and Burn Crime Bill, 2012. 

In December, 2011, Pakistan passed the Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention (Amendment) Act, 2010. The Act amended Pakistan’s Penal Code to include the terms “disfigure” and “deface” which are explained as “disfigurement of face or disfigurement of any organ or any part of the organ of the human body which impairs or injures or corrodes or deforms the symmetry or appearance of the person.” In addition, the Penal Code was amended to include the following sections:

336A. Hurt caused by corrosive substance. Whoever with the intention or knowingly causes or attempts to cause hurt by means of a corrosive substance or any substance which is deleterious to human body when it is swallowed, inhaled, comes in to contact or received into human body or otherwise shall be said to sauce hurt by corrosive substance:

Explanation: In this sub-section, unless the context otherwise requires, “corrosive substance” means a substance which may destroy, cause hurt, deface or dismember any organ of the human body and includes every kind of acid, poison, explosive or explosive substance, noxious thing, arsenic or any other chemical which has a corroding effect and which is deleterious to human body.

336B. Punishment for hurt by corrosive substance. Whoever causes hurt by corrosive substance shall be punished with imprisonment for life or imprisonment of either description which shall not be less than fourteen years and a minimum fine of million rupees.

In December, 2012, The Acid Throwing and Burn Crime Bill, 2012 was submitted for further deliberations. The Acid Throwing and Burn Crime Bill, 2012 expands upon the Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention (Amendment) Act, 2010 and proposes the following specific definition of acid attack: “any act or omission, caused by corrosive substance/acid to be thrown or administered in any form on the victim with the intention that such person is likely to cause to the other person permanent or partial damage/injury or deformity or disfigurement to any part of the body or organ or cause death of such victim.”  In addition to providing extensive definitions including broad inclusion of a variety of corrosive substances, the bill provides guidelines for investigation, protection of witnesses, as well as the recognition of medical, legal, and finanicail support for victims and their dependents.  The bill criminalizes an attempt to commit an Acid Crime and imposes liability to officers for negligence or improper investigations. To promote implementation of its terms, the bill establishes the Acid and Burn Crime Monitoring Board and describes its role and responsibilities. The bill also provides for government funding for the Board’s functioning. 

 

(See: Pro-Women laws take hold in Pakistan, UN Women, 26 March 2012; Women-specific bills passed: Fourteen-year jail term for acid-throwers, The Express Tribune – International Herald Tribune, 12 December 2012; Switching to life terms: MPs backtrack on death penalty plea for acid attackers, The Express Tribune – International Herald Tribune, 23 December 2012; Acid crimes show no letting up on women in Pakistan, Women News Network, 3 May 2013.)