Throwing acid on a person is a particularly horrific crime. It causes lifelong harm to the survivors, most of whom are women who were targeted by a man. Following a successful campaign by survivors, the government of Nepal has now introduced new laws to increase the punishment for offenders to up to 20 years in prison, and to control the sale of acid.
Acid attacks were once uncommon in Nepal but seem to have increased in recent years. According to the police, 18 women and 4 men have been attacked since 2016, but a larger number of people have been treated in clinics, suggesting that many more cases go unreported.
When Sangita Magar, then 16 years old, was attacked with acid in 2015, there was no provision for the treatment or compensation of survivors, and criminal laws were inadequate. Sangita went to the Supreme Court and won a victory in 2017, with the government ordered to provide survivors with critical care and compensation, and to regulate the sale of acid. In 2018, a new penal code made it a specific crime to attack a person with acid, with prison terms of 5 to 8 years.
Under the latest laws, signed by President Bidya Bhandari this week, the maximum penalty has increased, and those buying acid must show identification and be registered on a database.
The government has done the right thing, but it should go further. There needs to be effective enforcement of acid sale regulations. There should be more support and services available to women who fear that they are in danger from stalkers and men issuing threats of acid violence. Most importantly, the government should do more to end all violence against women; as an United Nations expert wrote, in Nepal: “The persistence of deeply rooted patriarchal social norms and harmful practices … lead to a social stigma attached to reporting violence, and normalisation of violence as a way of life.”
But for now, the survivors who have campaigned for years for these changes, such as Sangita Magar, Jenny Khadka, and Muskaan Khatun, who testified in Parliament this summer, should savor their victory.