Acid violence is a reprehensible crime and it is prevalent all over South Asia. It involves criminals committing violence – overwhelmingly against women – by throwing acidic substances at victims. This not only causes disfiguration of victims’ faces, but also causes lasting psychological problems.
Generally, offenders deliberately commit such crimes after careful planning – the free availability of acid makes the crime easy enough to commit. Although this crime can be directed against everyone (women, children and men), it is most frequently directed against women. The effects of acid violence are tragic and include disfigurement of the face, loss of eyes and limbs, damage to organs, and subsequent infections – victims and their families also suffer psychological damage over and above such physical injuries. In addition to mental trauma, survivors also face social segregation and exclusion which further injures their confidence and acutely undermines their public and private lives in a permanent manner. It is, therefore, unfortunate that in Pakistan – until now – there was no express legislative measure which selectively combatted the menace of acid violence.
Therefore, in the past such crimes were covered under Section 332 –“Hurt” of Pakistan Penal Code 1860; Section 335 – Itlaf-i-salahiyyat-i-udw (permanent disfigurement) that falls within the ambit of grievous hurt; and Section 336 – “Punishment for the offence” under which the offender is liable to arsh (payment to victim) and may also be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term that can extend to 10 years. On May 10, 2011, the National Assembly of Pakistan passed a bill entitled the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2011.
The statement of objects and reasons states:
The crime of throwing acid on women is becoming more common and recurring day by day. The main cause is the absence of proper legislation on this subject. Therefore, criminal minded people are constantly using it, as a dangerous and devastating arm against women. In view of these circumstances, there has been an increasing need to make comprehensive legislation in this regard.
However, the law is not gender-specific and the proposed Act is pending before the Senate of Pakistan. The proposed 2011 Act is an excellent piece of legislation, which amends and inserts the following provisions into the Pakistan Penal Code 1860 and the Code of Criminal Procedure 1898:
- Firstly, it inserts in Section 332 the explanation of disfigurement of face or disfigurement or dismemberment of any organ.
- Secondly, the insertion of new Section 336(A) and 336(B) in the Penal Code, wherein the Section 336(A) – “hurt” caused by corrosive substance – is explained and under the explanation “corrosive substance” is defined “as a substance, which may destroy, cause hurt, deface, or dismember any organ of the human body and includes every kind of acid, poison, explosive or explosive substance, heating substance, noxious thing, arsenic or any other chemical that has a corroding effect and is deleterious to human body.” Further, Section 336(B) – “Punishment for hurt by corrosive substance” – is imprisonment for life or imprisonment of either description, which shall not be less than 14 years and a minimum fine of Rs. 1 million. It is a commendable piece of legislation on acid violence and should prevent the intentions of any would be offenders.
- Moreover, Section 4 of the proposed Act amends Schedule II of the Code of Criminal Procedure 1898 and inserts the following important provisions; the police may arrest the accused without warrant of arrest issued by the court; the offence is not bailable; the offence is non-compoundable, which means the victim cannot agree for a consideration not to prosecute (however, victims are obliged not to prosecute offenders due to the pressure of accused side); life imprisonment or imprisonment not less than 14 years and minimum fine of Rs. 1 million; and the Court of Session will be the trial court.
This robust legislation was long-awaited and should have been passed years ago. It is being considered and debated before the Senate – pending since May 2011 – and, hopefully, it will be passed sometime in the near future. The new legislation should be advocated and explained through the print and electronic media to achieve its desired goals. It will act as a deterrent for intending offenders and will convey a clear message that there are serious consequences in the criminal law for those who will commit such heinous crimes. (Particularly when such crimes are directed against women.)