A national dialogue focused on open market acid sell in Bangladesh organised by ActionAid on Sunday ended up being a fairly comprehensive discourse on acid violence. It has not only been a revealing statistical update but also a fairly diagnostic analysis suggesting some antidotes worth applying against the social malady. The statistics are simply hair-raising: we have it on the authority of the executive director of Acid Survivors' Foundation that 3,000 cases of acid-related violence were reported during last 10 years in the country. This works out to an average of almost one victim per day. But these are reported incidents, and with the unreported ones added, the magnitude is simply appalling! Yet the more horrific reality is that only 10 percent of perpetrators ever get punished.
So while we hear of government initiatives to amend the Acid Crime Prevention Act and the Acid Control Act, both of 2002, it appears that it is not so much a question of giving more teeth to the laws as it is of implementing and enforcing them.
The pervasive nature of the crime can be gauged from the fact that now even men are becoming victims of it, mostly over land disputes and other forms of enmity. The ratio between women and men victims is 65:35.
Why this growing incidence of acid violence? The prime cause we believe is the unrestricted availability and sale of acid in the open but so-called black market. There are supposed to be listed users of acid, such as handloom, jewelry, pharmaceutical, carpentry-related trades etc but it so happens that not all of them are registered; in fact, most of them are not. Unless these are registered and there are some effective ways of monitoring acid purchase, use and sale, no control can be exercised at the roots of the problem. We would, therefore, endorse the view of experts that it should be mandatory on the part of such trades to be registered.
Aside from monitored availability of acid and enforcement of law at that point to punish the offenders, what we think can also be a powerful antidote is stepping up the excruciatingly slow pace of case disposal which allows for manipulation and maneuvering by the perpetrators to escape justice. The rate of conviction must be markedly higher to have any deterrent effect. The legal procedures may have also to be adjusted to the reality of witnesses being diffident to come forward for the prosecution.