6-12 March 2015 #748

Corrosive laws

Lenient punishment is not a deterrent for heinous crimes like acid attacks
Binita Dahal

Students Sangita Magar and Seema Basnet are recovering from the recent acid attack in Kathmandu, and from their hospital beds have repeatedly appealed to the police to arrest the attacker so they don’t inflict the pain on other girls. It has been two weeks, and the criminal is still at large.

The attack has brought into sharp focus the legal loopholes that allow perpetrators of violence against women in Nepal to evade arrest, or even if they are caught to be set free soon after. Though acid attacks are rare compared to other forms of violence in Kathmandu, it is used as a way to seek revenge on women and girls.

Women rights activist Renu Adhikari of Women’s Rehabilitation Centre (WOREC) agreed that the number of acid attacks is increasing, and that makes it necessary for perpetrators to get punishment without possible bail.

“Acid attack perpetrators must get punished under attempted murder,” she said. Perpetrators are booked under culpable homicide which carries only a fine of up to Rs 2,000 and a maximum sentence of four months.

WOREC filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court demanding a law to punish perpetrators of acid attacks after an incident in Tarai six years ago. The Supreme Court directed the government to amend the necessary provision of the existing law so the victims get justice and the perpetrators get punished, which hasn’t happened yet.

The Law Ministry hasn’t received the proposal to amend legal provision from the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare. However, Joint Secretary Radhika Aryal says the ministry is working to set up fast track courts.

The Supreme Court’s five year strategic plan has prioritised fast track courts to speed up the process of justice, but the lack of judges in the court system and lack of hearing dates can sometimes take years for a final verdict.

The Supreme Court also directed the appointment of women police officers for investigation and women judges for hearings of crimes against women. This also has not yet been implemented.

The National Women’s Commission (NWC) doesn’t have a proper record of the number of acid attacks in Nepal, and Mohana Ansari of the National Human Rights Commission says that in most cases the police is reluctant to arrest the perpetrator, who either walks free or the case gets dismissed.

“Incorrect and insufficient reporting and following up makes it difficult to keep records of acid attack which are not as common, but very dangerous,” said Ansari.

An important concern is whether people should be allowed to easily purchase acid or not, and if so, there should be strict regulations on its sale.

Though acid attacks are not as common as other forms of violence against women, such as dowry burning, the aftermath is equally excruciating. This raises the question of safety for girls and women here.

When a human rights activist met with Prime Minister Sushil Koirala last week, he supported the notion of mandatory punishment for acid attackers. However, unless the law is tightened for perpetrators, they may continue to use acid attacks as a form of revenge as they seem to have done in the attack on Sangita Magar and Seema Basnet.

Read also:

Three-fourths of the sky, Editorial

Living in fear, Tsering Dolker Gurung

Acid victims want justice, Devaki Bista

Acid attacks, Manoj Shrestha