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Acid throwing, also called an acid attack or vitriolage, is a form of violent assault. It is defined as the premeditated act of throwing acid onto the body of a person "with the intention to disfigure, maim, torture, or kill.” Perpetrators of these attacks throw acid at their victims, usually at their faces, burning them, and damaging skin tissue, often exposing and sometimes dissolving the bones. The most common types of acid used in these attacks are sulfuric, nitric, or hydrochloric acid. The long term consequences of these attacks include blindness and permanent scarring of the face and body, along with far-reaching social, psychological, and economic difficulties.
Globally, at least 1500 people in 20 countries are attacked in this way yearly, 80 percent of whom are female and somewhere between 40 percent and 70 percent under 18 years of age. Because most of their victims are women, acid attacks have been characterized as a form of gender apartheid.
Health effects 
The most notable effects of an acid attack is the lifelong bodily disfigurement. According to the Acid Survivors Foundation in Pakistan, there is a high survival rate amongst victims of acid attacks. Consequently the victim is faced with physical challenges, which require long term surgical treatment, as well as psychological challenges, which require in-depth intervention from psychologists and counselors at each stage of physical recovery. These far-reaching effects on their lives impact their psychological, socialand economic viability in communities.
The medical effects of acid throwing are extensive. As a majority of acid throwing is aimed at the face, several articles thoroughly reviewed the medical implications for these victims. Severity of the damage depends on the concentration of the acid and the period of time before the acid is thoroughly washed off with water or neutralized with a neutralizing agent. The acid can rapidly eat away skin, the layer of fat beneath the skin, and in some cases even the underlying bone. Eyelids and lips may be completely destroyed, the nose and ears severely damaged. Though not exhaustive, their findings included:
- The skull is partly destroyed/deformed and hair lost.
- Ear cartilage is usually partly or totally destroyed; deafness may occur.
- Eyelids may be burned off or deformed, leaving the eyes extremely dry and prone to blindness. Acid directly in the eye also damages sight, sometimes causing blindness in both eyes.
- Nose can become shrunken and deformed; the nostrils may close off completely due to destroyed cartilage.
- The mouth becomes shrunken and narrow, and it may lose its full range of motion. Sometimes, the lips may be partly or totally destroyed, exposing the teeth. Eating can become difficult.
- Scars can run down from the chin to neck area, shrinking the chin and extremely limiting range of motion in the neck.
- Inhalation of acid vapors usually create respiratory problems, exacerbated restricted airway pathways (the esophagus and nostrils) in acid patients.
Acid assault survivors also face many mental health issues upon recovery. One study showed that when compared to published Western norms for psychological well-being, non-Caucasian acid attack victims reported higher levels of anxiety, depression, and scored higher on the Derriford appearance scale, which measures psychological distress due to one's concern for their appearance. Additionally, the women reported loweredself-esteem according to the Rosenberg scale and increased self-conscious, both in general and in the social sphere.
In addition to medical and psychological effects, many social implications exist for acid survivors, especially women. For example, such attacks usually leave victims handicapped in some way, rendering them dependent on either their spouse or family for everyday activities, such as eating and running errands. This dependency is increased by the fact that many acid survivors are not able to find work, due to impaired vision and range of motion. This negatively impacts their economic viability, causing hardships on the families/spouses that care for them. As a result, divorce rates are high, with abandonment by husbands found in 25% acid assault cases in Uganda (compared to only 3% of wives abandoning their disfigured husbands). Moreover, acid survivors who are single when attacked almost certainly become ostracized from society, effectively ruining marriage prospects.
Research has prompted many solutions to the increasing incidence of acid throwing in the world. Many countries look to Bangladesh, whose rates of attack have been decreasing, as a model, following their lead in many legislative reforms. However, several reports highlighted the need for an increased, legal role of NGOs to offer rehabilitation support to acid survivors. Additionally, nearly all research stressed the need for stricterregulation of acid sales in order to combat this social issue.
The role of NGOs 
Many NGOs have risen in the areas with the highest occurrence of acid throwing. Bangladesh has its Acid Survivors Foundation, which offers acid victims legal, medical, counseling, and monetary assistance in rebuilding their lives. Similar institutions exist in Uganda, which has its ownAcid Survivors Foundation, and in Cambodia which utilizes the help of Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity. All NGOs provide rehabilitation services for survivors while acting as advocates forsocial reform, hoping to increase support and awareness for acid assault.
In Bangladesh, the Acid Survivors Foundation, Nairpokkho, Action Aid, and the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee's Community Empowerment & Strengthening Local Institutions Programme assist survivors in Bangladesh. The Acid Survivors Foundation in Pakistan operates in Islamabad, offering medical, psychological and rehabilitation support. The Acid Survivors Foundation in Uganda operates in Kampala and also provides counseling and rehabilitation treatment to victims of acid attacks, as well as their families if need be. Additionally in Cambodia, LICADHO, the Association of the Blind in Cambodia and theCambodian Acid Survivors Charity all assist survivors of acid attacks. The Acid Survivors Trust Internationalprovides specialist support to its sister organizations in Africa and Asia through its specialist team who work across the organizations transferring medical, psychological and social rehabilitation skills whilst supporting knowledge sharing and best practice.
Indian acid attack survivor Shirin Juwaley founded Palash Foundation to help other survivors with "psycho-social rehabilitation". She also spearheads research into social norms of beauty and speaks publicly as an advocate for the empowerment of all victims of disfigurement and discrimination. In 2011, the principal of an Indian college refused to have Juwaley speak at her school for fear that Juwaley's story of being attacked by her husband would make students "become scared of marriage".
Regulation of acid sales 
A positive correlation has been observed between acid attacks and ease of acid purchase. Sulfuric, nitric, and hydrochloric acid are most commonly used and are all cheap and readily available in many instances. For example, oftentimes acid throwers can purchase a liter of concentrated sulfuric acid at motorbike mechanic shops for about 40 cents. Nitric acid costs around $1.50 per liter and is available for purchase at gold or jewelry shops, as polishers generally use it to purify gold and metals. Hydrochloric acid is also used for polishing jewelry, as well as for making soy sauce, cosmetics, and traditional medicine/amphetamine drugs.
Due to such ease of access, many organizations call for a stricter regulation on the acid economy. Specific actions include required licenses for all acid traders, a ban on concentrated acid in certain areas, and enhanced system of monitoring for acid sales, such as the need to document all transactions involving acid. However, some scholars have warned that such stringent regulation may result in black market trading of acid, which law enforcements must keep in mind.
Treatment for burn victims remains inadequate in many developing nations where incidence is high. Medical underfunding has resulted in very few burn centers available for victims in countries such as Uganda, Bangladesh, and Cambodia. For example, Uganda has one specialized burn centerin the entire nation which opened in 2003, likewise Cambodia has only one burn facility for victims, and scholars estimate that only 30% of the Bangladeshi community has access to health care.
In addition to inadequate medical capabilities, many acid assault victims fail to report to the police due to a lack of trust in the force, a sense of hopelessness due to the attackers' impunity, and a fear of male brutality in dealing with their cases. Most of the female victims suffer more because of police apathy in dealing with cases of harassment as safety issues as they refused to register a police case despite the victim being attacked thrice before meriting police aid after an acid attack. These problems are exacerbated by a lack of knowledge of how to treat burns: many victims applied various types of oil to the acid, rather than rinsing thoroughly and completely with water toneutralize the acid. Such home remedies only serve to increase the severity of damage, as they do not counteract the acidity.
According to researchers and activists, countries typically associated with acid assault include Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Hong Kong, China, the United Kingdom, Kenya, South Africa, Uganda, and Ethiopia. However, acid attacks have been reported in many other countries around the world:
Additionally, anecdotal evidence for acid throwing exists in various other regions of the world such as South America, Central and North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. However, despite such widespread occurrence South Asian countries maintain the highest incidence of acid attacks in the world.
Women are at an increased risk of acid violence in certain countries, such as Bangladesh and India. Additionally, even countries with very similar acid attacks rates for men and women, women usually have a larger proportion of their attacks stemming from marital or family violence. For example, in Iran 51% of acid throwing victims were male while 49% were female; however, 50% of female victims were attacked be either their husband or relative, compared to only 12% of male victims.
Another factor that puts victims at increased risk for an acid assault is their socioeconomic status, as those living in poverty are more likely to be attacked. Additionally, all three nations with the most noted incidence of acid throwing - Bangladesh, India, and Cambodia - are ranked 93rd, 114th, and 104th, respectively, out of 134 countries on the Global Gender Gap Index, a scale that measures equality in opportunities between men and women in nations.
South Asia 
In South Asia, acid throwing attacks have been used as a form of revenge for refusal of sexual advances, proposals of marriage and demands for dowry. Scholars Taru Bahl and M.H. Syed say that land disputes are another leading cause.
In Bangladesh, where such attacks are relatively common, they are mostly a form of domestic violence. Bangladesh has the highest reported incidence of acid assault in the world. According to the Acid Survivors Foundation in Bangladesh, the country has reported 3000 acid attack victims since 1999, peaking at 262 victims for the year of 2002. Rates have been steadily decreasing by 15% to 20% since 2002, with the amount of acid attack victims reported at 91 in Bangladesh as recently as 2011. Bangladesh acid throwing shows the most gendered discrimination, with one study citing a male to female victim ratio of 0.15:1 and another reporting that 82% of acid attack survivors in Bangladesh are women. Younger women were especially prone to attack, with a recent study reporting that 60% of acid assault survivors are between the ages of 10 and 19. According to Mridula Bandyopadhyay and Mahmuda Rahman Khan, it is a form of violence primarily targeted at women. They describe it as a relatively recent form of violence, with the earliest record in Bangladesh from 1983.
Acid throwing is often referred to as a "crime of passion," fueled by jealousy and revenge. For the country of Bangladesh, such passion is usually rooted in marriage and relationships. One study showed that refusal of marriage proposals accounted for 55% of acid assaults, with abuse from husband/family member (18%), property disputes (11%) and refusal of sexual or romantic advances (2%) as other leading causes. Additionally, the use of acid throwing in dowry arguments has been reported in Bangladesh, with 15% of cases studied by the Acid Survivors Foundation citing dowry disputes as the motive. The chemical agents most commonly used to commit these attacks are hydrochloric acid and sulfuric acid.
The Thomson Reuters Foundation survey  says that India is the fourth most dangerous place in the world for women to live in  as women belonging to any class, caste or creed and religion can be victims of this cruel form of violence and disfigurement, a premeditated crime intended to kill or maim her permanently and act as a lesson to "put her in her place". In India, acid attacks on women who dared to refuse a man's proposal of marriage or asked for a divorce  are a form of revenge. The number of acid attacks have been rising in India and there have been 68 reported acid attacks in the state of Karnataka since 1999. Tom O'Neill of National Geographic reported that acid throwing is also used to enforce the caste system in modern India.
Acid throwing in India, like Bangladesh, has a gendered aspect to it: analyses of news reports revealed at least 72% of reported attacks involved women. However, unlike Bangladesh, India's incidence rate of chemical assault has been increasing in the past decade, with a high 27 reported cases in 2010. Altogether, from January 2002 to October 2010, 153 cases of acid assault were reported in Indian print media while 174 judicial cases were reported for the year of 2000. However, scholars think that this is an underestimation, given that not all attacks are reported in the news, nor do all victims report the crime to officials.
Motivation for acid throwing in India mirrors those in Bangladesh: 34% of the analyzed print media in India cited marriage or love refusal as the cause of the attack and dowry disagreements have been shown to spur acid throwing. Land, property, and/or business disputes accounted for 20% of acid assaults in India from 2002 to 2010. One such incident would be Sonali Mukherjee's case where the perpetrators were granted bail after being sentenced to nine years of Jail. Thereafter, when her family approached High Court, all the legislators, and MPs in search of justice, all she got in return was assurances and "nothing else". The perpetrators got away scot-free. Without media attention, an acid attack victim languishes in pain and poverty, their families often unable to bear the medical expenses.
According to New York Times reporter Nicholas D. Kristof, acid attacks are at an all-time high in Pakistan and increasing every year. The Pakistani attacks he describes are typically the work of husbands against their wives who have "dishonored them". Statistics compiled by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) show that 46 acid attacks occurred in Pakistan during 2004 and decreased with only 33 acid assaults reported for 2007. According to a New York Times article, in 2011 there have been 150 acid attacks in Pakistan, up from 65 in 2010. However, other estimates by the Human Rights Watch and the HRCP cite the number of acid throwing victims to be as high 400-750 per year. Motivation behind acid assaults range from marriage proposal rejections to religious fundamentalism.
Acid throwing in Cambodia is more gender neutral, yet still shows slight discrimination toward women with 52% of its survivors women. As with India, rates of acid attacks in Cambodia have generally increased in the past decades, with a high rate of 40 cases reported for 2000 that started the increasing trend. According to the Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity, 216 acid attacks were reported from 1985-2009, with 236 reported victims. Jealousy and/or hate is the biggest motivator for acid throwing in Cambodia, as 28% of attacks reported those emotions as the cause. However, such assaults were not only perpetrated by men - some reports suggest women attack other women occur more frequently than men do. Such incidents usually occur between a husband's wife and mistress in order to attain power and socioeconomic security. One third of the victims are bystanders. Women suffer a lot of gender based violence. One of the most violent forms of gender based violence in Cambodia is acid throwing  In Cambodia, there is only one support center that is aiming to help acid attack survivors.They can receive medical and legal support.
Middle East 
Acid throwing occurs throughout the Middle East, though comprehensive statistics on these incidences are not readily available. According to reports, acid attacks in Iraq are on the rise. Internet articles cite immodesty as a motivator for such attacks, with the legs and/or face of women burnt due to nontraditional dress. Recently, acid assault in Iran has been met with increased sanctions - the Sharia code of quis, or equivalence justice, required a caught perpetrator of acid violence to both pay a fine and be blinded with acid in both eyes. The victim, Ameneh Bahrami, sentenced her attacker to be blinded in 2008. However, as of July 31, 2011, she pardoned her attacker, thereby absolving Majid Movahedi of his crime and halting the retributive justice of Qisas. These increased sanctions have occurred as a result of elevating acid violence in Iran - according to Afshin Molavi in the early years of the revolution and following the mandating of the covering of hair by women in Iran, some woman were threatened with an acid attack by the Islamic vigilantes for wearing a hijab. As stated previously, Iran currently has laws against acid attacks, which are treated as a capital offense.
Aside from Iran, acid violence in other Middle East regions has been reported. In 2006 a group in Gaza calling itself "Just Swords of Islam" claimed to have thrown acid at a young woman who dressed "immodestly," and warned other women to wear the hijab, a traditional head scarf.[better source needed] Such attacks or threats against women who failed to dress "modestly" or threatened traditional norms have also been reported in Afghanistan. In November 2008, extremists subjected schoolgirls to acid attacks for attending school. Attacks or threats of attacks on women who failed to wear hijab or were otherwise "immodestly dressed" have been reported in Afghanistan. Furthermore, acid assault has also been documented in Saudi Arabia and Iraq, with some research indicating that children have been recruited to carry out acid throwing.
High incidence of acid assaults have been reported in some African countries, including Nigeria, Uganda, Ethiopia, and South Africa. Unlike occurrences in South Asia, acid attacks in these countries show less gender discrimination. In Uganda, 57% of acid assault victims were female and 43% were male. A study focusing on chemical burns in Nigeria revealed a reversal in findings - 60% of the acid attack patients were male while 30% were female. However, in both nations younger individuals were more likely to suffer from an acid attack: the average age in the Nigeria study was 20.6 years while Ugandan analysis shows 59% of survivors aged from 19–34 years of age.
Motivation for acid assault in these African countries is similar to that of Cambodia. "Relationship conflicts" caused 35% of acid attacks in Uganda from 1985-2011, followed by property conflicts at 8% and business conflicts at 5%. Disaggregated data was not available in the Nigeria study, but they reported that 71% of acid assaults resulted from an argument with either a jilted lover, family member, or business partner. As with the other nations, researchers believe these statistics to be under-representative of the actual scope and magnitude of acid throwing in African nations.
South America 
Though comprehensive statistics on acid throwing in South America are sparse, a recent study investigating acid assault in Bogota, Colombia provides some insight for this region. According to the article, the first identified survivor of acid violence in Bogota was attacked 15 years ago, and since then reported cases have been increasing with time. The study also cited the Colombian Forensics Institute, which reported that 56 women complained of aggression by acid in 2010, 46 in 2011, and 16 during the first trimester of 2012. The average age of survivors was about 23 years old, but ranged from 13 to 41 years.
The study reported a male:female victim ratio of 1:30 for acid assault in Bogota, Colombia. Reasons behind these attacks usually stemmed from poor interpersonal relationships and domestic intolerance toward women. Moreover, female victims usually came from low socioeconomic classes and had low education. The authors also state that the prevalence of acid attacks in other areas of South America remains unknown due to significant underreporting.
North America and Europe 
As described in the "History" section, acid attacks in the United States and the United Kingdom were common during the 18th century but have since declined as the judicial system became more developed. Currently acid assault in the US occurs more often amongst minorities and shows a correlation with alcohol and/or drug abuse, with specific trends associated with different states. The UK has the highest male:female victim ratio (6.14:1), while recently there has been a surge in high profile, public acid attacks in Bulgaria and Greece. Additionally, the government of New Brunswick, Canada, has identified acid burns as a common form of violence against women.
Burning as a means of control and punishment towards women and children has roots as an ancient habit in South Asia. Scholars argue that this practice also has religio-historical roots, stating that "fire and its searing/cleansing powers have been held in great reverence and fear in the Indian psyche." The use of acid as a weapon has historical roots in areas other than South Asia. Literature regarding acid dates back to ancient Greece and its non-weapon use is documented throughout history, from second century AD until late medieval times. One of the earliest recorded acid assault occurred in 17th century Franceduring Louis XIV's rule. The use of vitriol, or sulfuric acid, became so widespread throughout Europe in the late 1800s that the term La Vitrioleuse was coined. La Vitrioleuse described women, the majority poor, who perpetrated crimes of passion against unfaithful mates or their mistresses in order to grotesquely disfigure them and ruin future amorous activity. Little research exists as to why widespread acid violence ceased in this area in the early 1900s, but some scholars suggest strengthened legal systems, transformed gender roles, and scarcity of acid due to the world wars.
In recent decades the use of acid as burning agents began to rise in many developing nations, specifically those in South Asia. The first recorded acid attacks occurred in Bangladesh in 1967, India in 1982, and Cambodia in 1993. Since then, research has witnessed an increase in the amount and severity of acid attacks in South Asia. However, this can be traced back to significant underreporting in the 1980s and 1990s, along with a general lack of research for this phenomenon during that time period. Currently, research shows acid throwing increasing in many developing nations, with the exception of Bangladesh which has observed a decrease in incidence in the past few years.
Many countries have begun pushing for legislation addressing acid attacks, and a few have recently employed newlaws against this crime. Under the Qisas law of Pakistan, the perpetrator may suffer the same fate as the victim, and may be punished by having drops of acid placed in his/her eyes. This law is not binding and is rarely enforced according to a New York Times report. In Pakistan, the Lower House of Parliament unanimously passed the Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill On May 10, 2011. As punishment, according to the bill individuals held responsible for acid throwing face harsh fines and life in prison. However, the country with the most specific, effective legislation against acid throwing is Bangladesh, and such legal action has resulted in a steady 20-30% decrease in acid violence for the past few years. In 2013, India introduced amendment to the Indian Penal Code through the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, making acid throwing a specific offence with a punishment of imprisonment not less than 10 years and which can extend to life imprisonment and with fine.
In 2002, Bangladesh introduced the death penalty for throwing acid and laws strictly controlling the sale, use, storage, and international trade of acids. The acids are used in traditional trades carving marble nameplates, conch bangles, goldsmiths, tanneries, and other industries, which have largely failed to comply with the legislation. Salma Ali of the Bangladesh National Women Lawyers' Association derided these laws as "dead laws". The names of these laws are the Acid Crime Control Act (ACCA) and the Acid Control Act (ACA), respectively.
The ACCA directly impacts the criminal aspect of acid throwing, and allows for the death penalty or a level of punishment corresponding to the area of the body affected. If the attack results in a loss of hearing or sight or damages the victim’s face, breasts, or sex organs then the perpetrator faces either the death penalty or life sentencing. If any other part of the body is maimed, then the criminal faces 7–14 years of imprisonment in addition to a fine of $700 USD. Additionally, throwing or attempting to throw acid without causing any physical or mental harm is punishable by this law and could result in a prison term of 3–7 years along with a $700 USD fine. Furthermore, conspirators that aid in such attacks assume the same liability as those actually committing the crime.
The ACA regulates the sale, usage, and storing of acid in Bangladesh through the creation of the National Acid Control Council (NACC). The law requires that the NACC implement policies regarding the trade, misuse, and disposal of acid, while also undertaking initiatives that raise awareness about the dangers of acid and improve victim treatment and rehabilitation. The ACA also calls for district level committees responsible for enacting local measures that enforce and further regulate acid use in towns and cities.
See also 
- Modesty patrol
- Domestic violence
- Nasreen Pervin Huq
- Saving Face (documentary)
- Domestic violence in India
- Domestic violence in Pakistan
- Domestic violence in the United States
- Acid attack victims
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Further reading 
- Dasgupta, Shamita Das (2008). "Acid Attacks". In Renzetti, Claire M.; Edleson, Jeffrey L.. Encyclopedia of Interpersonal Violence 1 (1st ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications. pp. 5–6. ISBN 978-1-4129-1800-8
- Breaking the Silence: Addressing Acid Attacks in Cambodia - The Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity