There are about 40 cases of acid attacks every year in Nepal and three-quarters of the victims are women. So far, the law provided for attackers getting imprisoned, besides a fine or a financial compensation to the victim – but justice is rarely done.
By Laxmi Khanal
Lawmakers in Nepal’s National Assembly on Tuesday passed the ‘Acid and other Hazardous Chemical Substances (Regulation) Bill’.
Responding to queries raised while discussing the bill, Minister Balkrishna Khand explained that the law has been brought to regulate acid and hazardous chemical substances as the problem has surfaced due to its misuse though acid and other hazardous chemical substances are necessary for industrial and health sector.
He opined that the passage of the bill will put to an end the misuse of acid and other hazardous chemical substances because the sale of acid would be controlled and necessary action would be taken against those misusing it.
According to US-based NGO, Donor Direct Action, Nepal witnesses about 40 cases of burns from acid attacks every year.
There are about 40 reported cases of burns and acid attacks every year in Nepal and nearly three-quarters of the victims are women, according to New York-based charity Donor Direct Action.
Among the survivors are also young children, their pictures displayed on the website of Burns Violence Survivors Nepal, a Nepali NGO helping acid-burn victims and advocating for a change in the existing law.
So far, the law has provided for attackers getting imprisoned, besides a fine or a financial compensation to the victim. But in reality, the imprisonment or a fine is a rarity.
Much of the credit for the new law goes to young women like Sangita Magar and Muskan Khatun.
Sangita was 16 years-old when a neighbour threw acid on her and a friend. She has since become a campaigner for changing the laws on acid attacks and has often questioned the easy availability and access to the hazardous chemical.
Sangita has been campaigning against the unregulated sale of acid and for life sentence to people carrying out such attacks and an enhanced, expedited compensation.
As a result of her efforts, Nepal’s hospitals now provide free treatment to acid burn victims.
Muskan was a 15 years-old girl on her way to school when a boy, whose advances she had earlier rebuffed, attacked he with acid. Her campaign, like Sangita’s, for a strong legislation has been recognised because of the laws she has advocated and lobbied for, including an International Women of Courage Award in 2021.
The work of human rights defenders like Muskan and Sangita has made it difficult today for people in the business to provide acid to vengeful men.
Prevention is the most important part of the law, as it stands today. While selling acid is not banned because of the industrial use the chemical has, sellers are now required to maintain a record of buyers along with their identifications. In any case, sale of small, bottled, volumes are prohibited with a provision of punishment.
Image: Burns Violence Survivors Nepal