By Simone Galimberti and Sanju G.C.
KATHMANDU. Nepal, Oct 5 2020 – After a prolonged lobbying campaign, the Government of Nepal recently took some important actions against perpetrators of acid attacks while offering better provisions to support the process of rehabilitation of their victims.
The turning point was an announcement made by Prime Minister K.P. Oli on the 10th September, 2020 in the aftermath of a meeting with a delegation of six civil society and human rights organizations actively working on the issue.
During the program that also included an interaction with a group of survivors, Prime Minister Oli declared the Government would introduce a new legislation that would curb and prevent acid and burn related crimes.
On the 28th of September, President Bidhya Devi Bhandari issued two ordinances strengthening the legislation against acid attack, a plague that is becoming more and more common in Nepal as elsewhere in the region.
The promulgation comes at a critical juncture when violence against women and girls in Nepal has been on the rise, especially during the Covid induced lockdown and what has now been hailed as the ‘shadow pandemic’.
Through the new measures, perpetrators will have to pay a much heavier price for committing such heinous crimes including an increase in prison term to 20 years and a fine up to approximately 10,000 USD that would be used to compensate the victims.
In addition, the Government will bear the cost of treatment of the victims and also will regulate in a much stringent way the sales of chemicals being used for such attacks.
While there is no doubt that the two ordinances that still must be approved by the Parliament within six months before automatically elapsing, are important milestones to effectively deal with acid attacks, they are falling short of expectations.
The group of civil society organizations (CSOs) working on the issue had recommended a completely new set of legislation rather than amending the Penal Code as done by the Government through the two ordinances.
The rationale for a completely new piece of law is straightforward: stronger punishments together with a resolute commitment for treatment, something that perhaps should be granted elsewhere, and a long due regulation on the sale of acid chemicals, do not go far enough to ensure that the problem will be definitely eradicated.
This is the reason why a comprehensive set of recommendations was submitted during the meeting with Prime Minister Oli, including not only preventive measures but, very importantly, also proposals to fully rehabilitate the victims towards regaining a normal life.
Besides the measures incorporated in the two ordinances, the representatives of the civil society have been demanding for special social protection and compensatory safety net, relief for dependents of the victims, safety, security, and protection from discrimination for the victims and their family.
In addition, the civil society also called for awareness on the issue of burn and acid violence, its effects and treatment. The fact that the Prime Minister Oli followed up on its promise, albeit only partially, is praiseworthy but not enough.
“Though the proposed provisions in the ordinance are very progressive than the existing legal provisions, it will be more comprehensive if the new law addressed issues such as survivor’s safety, treatment and overall well-being” shares Sabin Shrestha, the Executive Director of the Forum for Women, Law & Development (FWLD), one of the organizations engaged in drafting the recommendations.
Moreover, as often happens in countries struggling to reinforce the rule of law, the real issue will now be to wait and see how the new provisions of the Penal Code will be implemented on the ground.
Shrestha shares the concerns: “the new legal provision needs to be translated in reality and focus should be on the implementation of the law. Effective monitoring mechanisms should be ensured ultimately benefiting the victim”.
The demands from the civil society must be taken further into consideration with an even more specialized act for acid and burn related crimes which is comprehensive and addresses the socio-economic, psychosocial, and emotional costs of acid and burn related crimes.
“It is important to ensure that the specific legislation on acid violence adopts a comprehensive approach to focus on all aspects of the crime and its impact on victims/ survivors” Shrestha adds.
While the focus of the two ordinances have been on acid attacks, burn related crimes, a definition broader than narrowed terminology of “acid attacks” should also be fully acknowledged and properly addressed as highlighted by Pratiksha Giri, Executive Director Burns Violence Survivors Nepal, a local not for profit actively working on the reintegration and rehabilitation of the victims.
While the two ordinances have rectified the existing loopholes within the law that prevented fair and swift justice in the past and have been drafted from a victim centered, justice oriented approach as it was explicitly advocated by Muskan Khatun, Jenny Khadka, and Sangita Magar on behalf of the 12 survivors who met Prime Minister Oli, which in itself is an important achievement, more action must follow.
The full eradication of acid and burn attacks requires not only a speedy approval of a dedicated piece of legislation but also a comprehensive approach to prevent any kind of violence against women.
“The education curriculum has incorporated issues of violence, social injustices and inequalities in its curriculum to create awareness around the prevalent issues of contemporary society however, only superficially” says Giri.
She further elaborates, “Educating young children acts as predominant factor to raise awareness and bring about positive changes in the mindset of young children through the knowledge they acquire from schools”. We cannot agree more.
Hopefully the steps taken by the Government will also embolden and encourage civil society activists and the survivors to ask for more.
It is their right and their demands must be heeded to at the earliest.