“I threw acid on her as she divorced me. I loved her and wanted to live with her but she refused to accept me,” this is the statement of an unstable husband, who hurled a whole bottle of acid on the face of his ex-wife while she was asleep.
In the middle of the night, she woke up to flammable liquid burning her.
She cried out in pain and rolled over on the floor in terrible pain.
She slipped into shock and couldn’t remember much about her first few hours in the hospital.
This story is from Bangladesh.
Acid attacks in Bangladesh have ruined the lives of many innocent young women, whose only fault was that they divorced their husbands, refused marriage or love proposals, or rejected sexual advances from those men.
The laws are there
In 2002, the Bangladeshi parliament enacted two parts of legislation, namely, the Acid Control Act 2002 and the Acid Crime Prevention Act 2002 (first and second Act), to control acid crimes by mandating rigorous punishment.
Enactment of these acts led to the conviction of 53 people in that year alone.
Bangladesh is one of the first countries to legislate banning acid violence.
As per the secondact, if there is loss of hearing, sight, or damage to the person’s face or sexual organs, the punishment is death penalty or life imprisonment.
If any other body part is maimed, punishment shall range between seven and 14 years imprisonment.
If a person assists to commit the crime of acid throwing, he/she will receive the same punishment as the perpetrators.
While Bangladesh has had acid laws for over two decades and seen a drastic drop of the crime rate, the UK is facing an alarming rise in such heinous acid attacks
The Acid Control Act of 2002 has provisions to control “the import, production, transportation, hoarding, sale, and use of acid.
The act punishes the unlicensed production, import, transport, storage, sale, and use of acid by giving imprisonment of three to 10 years and a fine of up to Tk50,000.
While in Bangladesh, the enactment of stricter laws led to a drastic drop in the frequency of acid attacks between 2002 and 2017, the UK recorded 720 acid attacks in 2016.
Lessons to learn
Surprisingly, currently, the UK has one of the highest rates of acid attacks in the world.
In Bangladesh, acid attacks decreased dramatically to 59 occurrences in 2015 from 494 in 2002 while acid violence is rampant in the UK.
Two men have been the victims of a “suspected acid attack” in East London on July 25.
The pair was treated after an unknown liquid was thrown at them near Roman Road, Bethnal Green.
Once known to be the country with the highest number of acid attacks, Bangladesh has since experienced a significant decline in the frequency of acid assaults.
Since the beginning of 2017, only 63 new attacks have been recorded, against 80 cases of survivors.
Whereas in the UK, more than 400 acid or corrosive substance attacks were carried out in six months up to April 2017.
Following a recent spate of acid attacks, the people are hoping that courts will impose life sentences when appropriate within the existing legal framework of the offenses against the Person Act 1861, and also seek “age checks” for those purchasing corrosive substances.
It is time to review existing laws on controlling the sale of acid, and preventing cash sales.
If the UK government manages to regulate the sale of acid and imposes life imprisonment for perpetrators of acid violence, it may see some drop in attacks similar to Bangladesh.
The legislators have to tighten the laws on the sale and possession of acid and other corrosive substances.
As a new country, Bangladesh has had to tackle many socio-economic and political instability in a short span of time, but it has proved that laws don’t just exist, they are adequately enforced to curb the menace from which the outside world can adopt many positive lessons.
Compare and contrast
In Bangladesh, extreme poverty, lack of education or no education, and social and political unrest are the main causes of violence, and most acid crimes happen in areas where people are extremely poor, uneducated, deprived, and uncivilised.
These vulnerable sections of society don’t grow to their full potential, because they don’t get the necessary resources.
In contrast, Britain has a glorious history of civilisation.
In Britain, acid attacks are on the rise mainly as hate crimes.
I am a barrister qualified from the UK, and a practicing advocate in Bangladesh Supreme Court. I have had the opportunity to compare between the laws, legal systems, and the social norms of UK and Bangladesh.
To the world, Britain is a role model, which upholds the values of liberty, democracy, human rights, and freedom of speech.
Therefore, it is utterly shocking for me to see the rise of an extreme form of violence which is gradually crossing over to all social classes and ethnic groups in the UK.
While Bangladesh has had acid laws for over two decades and seen a drastic drop of the crime rate, the UK is facing an alarming rise in such heinous acid attacks, but is yet to legislate more severe acid violence laws.
Miti Sanjana is a Barrister-at-Law of the honorable Society of Lincoln’s Inn, UK and a practicing advocate of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh.