Acid attacks are heinous crimes that are unfortunately in news constantly. Today, acid attacks are reported in many parts of the world, though more commonly in developing countries. Read here to know about the crime, laws, and regulations related to acid attacks.
According to data compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), West Bengal and UP consistently record the highest number of such cases, generally accounting for nearly 50% of all cases in the country year on year.
The charge sheeting rate of acid attacks stood at 83% and the conviction rate at 54% in 2019. In 2020, the figures stood at 86% and 72% respectively. In 2021, the figures were recorded to be 89% and 20% respectively.
In 2015, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) issued an advisory to all states to ensure speedy justice in cases of acid attacks by expediting prosecution.
What is meant by the acid attack?
An acid attack is a crime of hurting a person by throwing acid on them, administering acid to that person, or doing anything with acid with the intention or knowledge that it would harm the person. An acid attack may result in injuries to a person, in any part of the body, including:
- Permanent or partial damage or deformity to a person
- Burns on any body parts
- Maiming, dis-figuration, or any form of disability of a person.
Even though the primary definition of an acid attack is given in the Indian Penal Code, 1860, the Law Commission of India has also defined an acid attack, as a form of violence against women where the perpetrator splashes a person or object with acid to deface or kill them.
An acid attack can happen anywhere. Incidents of acid attacks frequently take place at home, on the streets, and even at workplaces.
Laws on acid attacks
Acid attacks were not considered separate offenses until 2013.
However, as a result of IPC modifications, acid attacks are now covered by a separate section (326A) of the IPC and are therefore penalized by a minimum term of 10 years in jail that can be increased to life in addition to a fine.
The law also specifies penalties for failing to provide victims with care or for police personnel who decline to file an FIR or document any evidence. Dereliction of duty by a police officer is punishable by jail for up to two years, while denial of treatment (by both public and private institutions) is punishable by up to one year in prison.
Regulation of acid sales
In 2013, the Supreme Court issued a ruling regulating the sale of caustic substances after taking notice of acid attacks.
Based on the directive, the MHA created the Model Poisons Possession and Sale Rules, 2013 by The Poisons Act, 1919, and issued an order to all states on how to govern acid sales.
- Given that states had jurisdiction over the issue, it requested that they develop their regulations based on model regulations.
- The MHA’s guidelines and the model rules state that over-the-counter sales of acid are prohibited unless the seller keeps a logbook or register to document those sales.
- The information of the person to whom acid is supplied, the amount sold, the person’s address, and the justification for obtaining acid were all to be recorded in this notebook.
- Additionally, the buyer must present a government-issued photo ID with his address on it before the sale can proceed.
- Also, the purchaser must provide documentation proving that they are older than 18 years old.
- Sellers are also required to declare all stocks of acid with the concerned Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) within 15 days and in case of undeclared stock of acid.
- The SDM can confiscate the stock and suitably impose a fine of up to Rs 50,000 for a breach of any of the directions.
- The rules ask educational institutions, research laboratories, hospitals, government departments, and the departments of Public Sector Undertakings, which are required to keep and store acid, to maintain a register of usage of acid and file the same with the concerned SDM.
MHA has issued another advisory to all States/ UTs to review and ensure that the retail sale of acids and chemicals is strictly regulated in terms of the Poison Rules so that these are not used in crime.
Acid attack Victim compensation and care
The MHA has directed states to ensure that acid attack victims receive compensation from the respective State Government/Union Territory of at least Rs. 3 lakhs to cover the cost of aftercare and rehabilitation by Supreme Court orders.
- Out of this, Rs 1 lakh must be given to the sufferer within 15 days of the incident to cover any costs associated with emergent medical care.
- States are supposed to ensure that treatment provided to acid attack victims in any hospital, public or private, is free of cost.
- The cost incurred on treatment is not to be included in the Rs 1 lakh compensation given to the victim.
- Acid attack victims require several plastic surgeries, thus 1-2 beds at the Apex State Tertiary Hospital might be set aside for their care. By doing this, the victims would not have to travel far to complete these procedures quickly.
- In addition, private hospitals which have availed the facility of concessional land for setting up the hospital could also be persuaded to earmark 1-2 beds for treatment of underprivileged victims of acid attacks which the State Government can identify for treatment.
- Apart from this, MHA suggested states should also extend social integration programs to the victims for which NGOs could be funded to exclusively look after their rehabilitative requirements.
What can be done to prevent acid attacks?
Violence against women and girls is rooted in gender-based discrimination and social norms and gender stereotypes that perpetuate such violence.
- The best way to end acid violence is to prevent it from happening in the first place by addressing its root causes.
- Education is critical in the prevention of acid attacks and other forms of violence against women and girls.
- Prevention should start early in life, by educating and working with young boys and girls to promote respectful relationships and gender equality.
National governments should have the ultimate responsibility for introducing and implementing laws and policies around acid violence against women and girls.
- One of the reasons acid violence occurs is the cheap and easy availability of acid.
- The State’s due diligence obligation to prevent acid violence includes regulating the sale of acid as well as enacting criminal laws to punish perpetrators
The obligation for states to prevent violence against women and girls and to provide comprehensive services to survivors of such violence was established as a ‘due diligence’ standard by General Recommendation No. 19 of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1992.
International convention on violence against women
There are several internationally agreed norms and standards that relate to ending violence against women:
- The 1993 World Conference on Human Rights recognized violence against women as a human rights violation and called for the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on violence against women in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.
- The 1993 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women was the first international instrument explicitly addressing violence against women, providing a framework for national and international action.
- The 1994 International Conference on Population and Development drew links between violence against women and reproductive health and rights.
- The 1995 Beijing Platform for Action identifies specific actions for governments to take to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls. Ending violence is one of the 12 areas for priority action.
- The UN General Assembly adopts biannual resolutions on the issue of violence against women. The resolutions, first adopted in 2012, include the intensification of efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women, trafficking in women and girls, and intensifying global efforts for the elimination of female genital mutilation. These resolutions are renegotiated biannually, and the most recent reports were submitted on these resolutions during the 75th session of the UN General Assembly.
- The UN Human Rights Council first adopted a resolution on accelerating efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women in 2012.
- In 2020, at the 64th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, leaders pledged to ramp up efforts to fully implement the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, including ending all forms of violence and harmful practices against women and girls.
Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), was adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly.
It is often described as an international bill of rights for women.
Consisting of a preamble and 30 articles, it defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination.
Although it is not mentioned explicitly in the treaty, CEDAW is applicable in times of peace and situations of armed conflicts, in line with the general understanding of the applicability of human rights instruments. It is open to all member states of the UN.
The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, better known as the Istanbul Convention, is a human rights treaty of the Council of Europe against violence against women and domestic violence which was opened for signature in May 2011, in Istanbul, Turkey.
Explicitly states that it “shall apply in times of peace and situations of armed conflicts”. The Istanbul Convention is also open to non-member states.
-Article written by Swathi Satish