The Government of Nepal in an effort to curb the rise of acid attacks in the nation is working to introduce harsher forms of punishment. The perpetrator would be sentenced to up to 20 years behind bars with a monetary penalty ranging from NPR 100 thousand to NPR 1 million depending on the severity of the grievances. Similarly, if the grievances inflicted is fatal resulting to the unfortunate death of the victim, then the attacker would be facing murder charges.
Such provisions are definitely a welcome move that portrays the government’s seriousness in combating such heinous crime. It is definitely a consolation to acid attack victims and motivating factor for the human rights and gender rights activists working tirelessly to reduce the instances of acid attacks.
However, the effort to reduce acid attacks should not be left reliant to the deterring provisions only. The efficacy of deterrence to combat and reduce such crimes may have been proven to be effective, however, other more is required.
How deterrence have fared so far?
Acid attacks have always been historically highest in the South Asian nations of India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Although, acid violence also involve men as a victim, women have suffered disproportionately not only in the region but globally. In fact, 80 percent of the acid attacks globally are targeted on women.
Due to the rising acid based violence, many countries in the South Asian region and other parts of the world formulated strong deterring measures. Thanks to the unrelenting activism, social and political pressure and the stringent laws enforced therein, visible reduction in the number of acid attacks could be seen.
For instance in Bangladesh, interventions adopted by its government through the support of various national and international civil organizations were crucial in reducing the violent crime. The enactment of the ‘Acid Crime Control Act, 2002’ and ‘The Acid Control Act, 2002’ played an important role in reducing the frequency of acid violence in Bangladesh as shown in figure 1. Although, introduction of death penalty as a deterring measure adopted by Bangladesh in 2002 could be too severe, however, it does indicate the doggedness of the government and gravity of the situation. It would be an understatement to say that number of acid attack cases in Bangladesh have reduced significantly, as this year, just 17 cases of acid violence have been registered so far. That means, reduction of over 95 percent since the introduction of deterrence measures in 2002.
Similarly, in Pakistan, where acid violence had been a growing social problem in the recent past, experienced a drastic drop in the violent attack. Acid attacks in the nation reduced from 153 in 2014 to 73 in 2016, which is a reduction by more than 50 percent. The drop in the number of cases in Pakistan related to acid violence has been attributed to deterring measures such as the ‘Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Act 2011’ that punishes offenders with minimum 14 years to maximum life imprisonment and fine of about USD 6000.
Furthermore, the decision to prosecute cases of acid attacks in special courts to speed up the proceedings of conviction also have contributed to send a strong message to prevent future acid violence. The introduction of the ‘Acid and Burn Crime Bill 2017’ further reinforces the government’s and various civil rights organizations’ efforts to prevent acid attacks and also provide relief measures such as medical treatment and rehabilitation facilities to the victims.
Similarly, in Cambodia, after the introduction of the ‘Acid Law’ in 2012, the number of acid violence have seen a reduction. In fact, the number of cases of acid attacks reported in the year 2010 of 36 reduced to just single digit.
All is not rosy though (case of India)
Despite deterrence measures in place such as minimum 10 years of prison to life sentence and fine, the reduction in the number of acid based violence has not been substantial. ,, One main reason cited is the actual number of conviction rates despite of the increased number of reported cases. In the below figure, it could be seen that though the number of cases of acid attack may have gone down, the total number of cases investigated in a given year has also gone down. Although the number of convictions did increase, the improvement have rather been dull.
Perhaps, the slow rate of investigation and subsequent delay in conviction not only mean that the number of cases yet to be investigated keeps piling, the punishments devised to deter such crimes does little to prevent them. Thus, it is perhaps true when it is said that ‘punishment is efficacious in deterring from crime only if it be certain and speedy.’
Lessons for Nepal:
It has to be understood that dedicated regulations introduced to combat acid attacks certainly works. However, such regulations only work when government shows seriousness in dealing with the issue. Seriousness, not just by formulating stringent regulations, but, effective implementation of those regulations. For instance, in Pakistan, after the implementation of necessary regulations, the conviction rates for acid violence in 2016 was about 10 percent against a 0.6 percent for national conviction rate for violence against women between the years 2008 to 2016. This shows that seriousness of the government in combating acid violence is definitely more than sadly combating overall violent acts against women.
In Bangladesh, the number of acid attacks have significantly reduced over the years. Although dismal figures could be seen in terms of conviction (305 convictions out of 1939 cases from 2002 to 2014), more severe form of deterrence mechanism may have been a decisive factor in reducing the crime. Among the 305 convicted, 13 were awarded death sentence, 116 were imprisoned for life and other 176 were imprisoned for different tenures. Another important factor could be the regulation and restriction in the sale and distribution of certain type of acids and the punitive measures in place for violations.
Therefore, deterrence works if followed up by effective implementation of rules and regulations. The underlying issue is not weak laws but weak implementation of laws. Additionally, government has to ensure that acids are distributed, sold, stored, transported for authentic reasons. Before implementing restrictions of sale and distribution, authorities have to determine if those restrictions would give rise to illegal transactions.
In the majority of the cases of acid attack, women are primarily at the receiving end. The cases of acid attack is rampant in South Asian countries (including Nepal) because of factors such as gender inequality and discrimination, the easy availability of acid, and impunity for acid attack offenders.
This highlights the overarching issue of deep-rooted patriarchy still persistent amongst our society leading to such crimes. Gender based violence still persists and combating acid attacks in countries such as Nepal is one way of combating battle against patriarchy. Though, introduction of legislations as one made last week by the government of Nepal is certainly needed, the battle to overcome gender based violence is far from over.
 Acid Violence in South Asia: A Structural Analysis toward Transformative Justice. Francis Kuriakose, International Institute of Social Studies, Kortenaerkade 12, 2518 AX, The Hague, The Netherlands. Indian Journal ofWomen and Social Change2(1) 65–80© 2017 SAGE Publications India Pvt. Ltd. SAGE Publicationssagepub.in/home.nav DOI: 10.1177/2455632717708717http://jws.sagepub.com
 Khan, Md & Talukder, Md.Ishtiaq. (2015). Acid Violence in Bangladesh: Women are the Worst Victims. Journal of Science and Technology. 5. 25-35.
 It has to be noted that precise number is unavailable. https://www.acidviolence.org/a-worldwide-problem.html
 The above statement does not in any case is meant to advocate for death sentence as in Bangladesh to combat acid attack. However, such measures should be used as a barometer to gauge the seriousness with which the menace of acid attacks has to be combatted.
 ACID VIOLENCE IN BANGLADESH : WOMEN ARE THE WORST VICTIMS. Journal of Science and Technology, 5(1): 25-35, January 2015
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