On 8th August two British women were attacked with acid on the East African island of Zanzibar, they were flown to Dar Es Salaam for treatment and have since returned to Britain. Zanzibar police continue their investigation into the unprovoked attack and have offered a £3,970 reward for information. Acid attacks are quite rare in the UK but globally 1500 acid attacks are reported each year. Seventy five to eighty percent of acid attacks happen to women, out of these figures a shocking 30% are under 18.
But why does this happen? Acid can be sold very cheaply, for under a dollar, this makes acid easily accessible. Corrosive household cleaners have also been used to harm individuals and again these are not difficult to obtain. According to the Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI) countries with high acid attacks rates often have these characteristics “weak judiciary and policing systems, poverty, and gender discrimination”. In many countries, where women and men are not seen as being equal a woman may struggle to report the issue and the laws may not be severe enough to discourage acid attacks. For women attacks often occur because of jealousy, for example if a female refuses sexual advances, a proposal or remarries.
Acid attacks are most common in South Asia but occur in many other countries too, in 2012 Colombia recorded 150 acid attacks, in Bangladesh about 400 occur each year. progress is being made in South Asia, with many countries introducing harsher penalties for attacks. In Pakistan harsher laws have been implemented and the conviction rate has tripled, in India people buying acid must now show identity cards, explain the need for the acid and all acid sales will be documented with the police, in Cambodia a new law has been put in place to help combat acid attacks. All of these new laws show that clear progress is being made in South Asia.
However acid attacks are on the rise in many western countries, including Italy and the UK with a link between domestic violence and the use of acid in attacks. In Italy 6,743,000 women reported being a victim of domestic violence; in the past month 3 acid attacks have been reported, all of which were against women. In 2006 and 2007 44 people were taken to hospital due to acid attacks, in 2008 it increased to 67 and in 2009 there were 69 admissions. One of the most well-known cases occurred in 2008; when Katie Piper (a TV presenter) had acid thrown at her by her boyfriend, Katie Piper now campaigns against acid attacks.
It is clear that acid attacks are a gender issue but it is important to remember that they happen to men too, for example the artistic director of Bolshoi Ballet was attacked last January. It is also clear that more needs to be done globally to stop these attacks because these attacks change people’s lives dramatically, one victim Awais Akrim from Britain described how if he goes out alone he gets “very upset” and how he has “a kind of fear which is inside my brain and I feel like it will be there for the rest of my life”, acid attacks scar the victims for life, socially, physically and psychologically. More must be done to help victims and to prevent acid attacks.