Acid throwing (acid attack or vitriolage) is a form of violent assault. Perpetrators of these attacks throw acid at their victims (usually at their faces), burning them, and damaging skin tissue, often exposing and sometimes dissolving the bones. The consequences of these attacks include blindness and permanent scarring of the face and body. These attacks are most common in Cambodia. Afghanistan, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and other nearby countries. According to Taru Bahl and M.H. Syed, 80% of victims of these acid attacks are female and almost 40% are under 18 years of age.
Victims and treatment
There is a high survival rate amongst victims of acid attacks. Consequently the victim is faced with physical challenges, which require long term surgical treatment, as well as psychological challenges, which require in-depth intervention from psychologists and counsellors at each stage of physical recovery.
Depression and anxiety are common amongst all patients with large burn injuries; however for victims with acid injuries the physical scarring can lead to feelings of shame and embarrassment, resulting in the survivor living a life in hiding due to fear of prejudice and stigma from their peers and the community. Many survivors continue to have vivid memories of the incident which cause great levels of distress, especially when they know their attackers are free to attack again.
The Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF), Nairpokkho and Action Aid assist survivors in Bangladesh. The Acid Survivors Foundation in Pakistan (ASF-P) operates in Islamabad offering medical, psychological and rehabiliation support. The Acid Survivors Foundation in Uganda (ASF-U) operates in Kampala and also provides counselling and rehabilitation treatment to victims of acid attacks, as well as their families if need be. Additionally in Cambodia, LICADHO, the Association of the Blind in Cambodia and the Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity (CASC) all assist survivors of acid attacks. The Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI) provides specialist support to its sister organisations in Africa and Asia through its specialist team who work across the organisations transferring medical, psychological and social rehabilitation skills whilst supporting knowledge sharing and best practice.
Attacks in South Asia
In South Asia, acid throwing attacks have been used as a form of revenge for refusal of sexual advances, proposals of marriage and demands for dowry. Scholars Taru Bahl and M.H. Syed say that land disputes are another leading cause. In Bangladesh, where such attacks are relatively common, they are mostly a form of domestic violence.Tom O'Neill of National Geographic reported that acid throwing is also used to enforce the caste system in modern India, where uppercaste individuals often attack Dalits for supposedly violating the order. In Cambodia, it was reported that these attacks were mostly carried out by wives against their husbands' lovers. According to New York Times reporter Nicholas D. Kristof, acid attacks are at an all time high in Pakistan and increasing every year. The Pakistani attacks he describes are typically the work of husbands against their wives who have "dishonored them". In India, the number of acid attacks have been rising. There had been 68 reported acid attacks in the state of Karnataka since 1999.
According to a Rand Corporation commentary, hundreds of women in Pakistan, Kashmir and Afghanistan have been blinded or maimed "when acid was thrown on their unveiled faces by male fanatics who considered them improperly dressed". Attacks or threats of attacks on women who failed to wear hijab or were otherwise "immodestly dressed" have been reported in other countries as well. In Afghanistan in November 2008, extremists also targeted women (schoolgirls) in acid attacks for attending school. During the Taliban's rule, girls were banned from school.
The chemical agents most commonly used to commit these attacks are hydrochloric acid and sulphuric acid. According to Mridula Bandyopadhyay and Mahmuda Rahman Khan, it is a form of violence primarily targeted at women. They describe it as a relatively recent form of violence, with the earliest record in Bangladesh from 1983. The scholar Afroza Anwary points out that acid violence occurs not only in Bangladesh but also in Pakistan, China, Ethiopia and has occurred historically in Europe.
In 2002, Bangladesh introduced the death penalty for throwing acid and laws strictly controlling the sales of acids.
Under the Qisas law of Pakistan, the perpetrator may suffer the same fate as the victim, and may be punished by having drops of acid placed in his eyes. This law is not binding and is rarely enforced according to a New York Times report. Iran has a similar law, and sentenced an attacker to be blinded in 2008.