Acid violence refers to the premeditated act of throwing corrosive acid on the face and body, with the intent to disfigure, torture, or kill the victim. The acid melts the flesh, sometimes to the bone, and causes lifelong scarring, physical disfigurement, and in some cases, permanent disability including blindness and immobility. Acid violence not only has a significant physical impact, but causes intense psychological distress, with survivors frequently reporting depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress. Although acid throwing is a form of violence known to have been committed throughout history, there is a steep rise in the number of cases documented in recent years. Some of this increase has been attributed to better documentation and survivors reporting the attacks more often. However, there appears to be a substantive increase in the number of acid attacks committed in recent times.
Reliable statistics on the prevalence of acid attacks are difficult to find. This is because governments do not always keep official statistics of acid attacks and many survivors do not report the attacks. That said, research by Acid Survivors Foundation Bangladesh indicated that since 1999, there have been 3000 reported cases of acid violence. The Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity tracked 271 acid violence cases between 1985 and June 2010.
Research indicates the most effective ways of reducing acid violence is through regulation of the sale of acid, tougher jail sentences for perpetrators, and raising awareness of the devastating impact that acid attacks have on individuals and their families. (Please see advocacy section for more on this.)
Most acid attacks are perpetrated by people known to the victims, and the attacks are often triggered by conflicts within relationships. These may include a woman being attacked after rejecting a marriage proposal , men being attack based on land disputes, or individuals being attacked based on political affiliation. The vast majority of attacks are against women and children, comprising of 75% (UNIFEM, 2012), with 95% of the perpetrators being men. According to research conducted by Acid Survivors Foundation Uganda, the most frequently cited reasons for acid attacks were conflict within a relationship and conflicts related to business or property disputes. Approximately one third had an “unknown” cause, reflecting the fact that there was little or no evidence or record of the attacks. It is also important to note that within Uganda, burn assaults are often used as a form of punishment. The aim is to leave a scar as a reminder of the offense so that children do not do that in the future. See: Uganda Country Report- Global Initiative to End All Corporeal Punishment of Children
Survivors often experience significant social and occupational discrimination. This is because in many cases, they are perceived to be deserving of the attack. Whereas one might expect that the general public would be sensitive to their suffering, this is often not the case.
- Skull: may be partly destroyed or deformed; hair is often lost
- Ears: deafness may occur immediately or after; cartilage in the ear is usually partly or totally destroyed, exposing the victim to future infection and hearing loss
- Eyes: direct acid contact or acid vapors can damage eyes, causing blindness; even if the eyes survive the attack, they remain vulnerable to other threats that can cause blindness
- Eyelids: may have been burned off or deformed, leaving the eyes to dry up and go blind
- Nose: shrunken and deformed; nostrils may close completely because the cartilage is destroyed
- Mouth: shrunken and narrowed, and may lose its shape; lips may be partly or totally destroyed; lips may be permanently flared, exposing the teeth; movement of the lips, mouth and face may be impaired; eating can be difficult
- Chin: scarred and deformed; scars may run downward, welding the chin to the neck or chest
- Neck: often badly damaged, sometimes leaving the person unable to extend the neck or straighten the head
- Chest: often badly scarred; inhalation of acid vapors can create breathing problems; in girls and young women, the breasts may stop developing or be destroyed
- Shoulders: may be badly scarred, which can limit the person’s arm movement
Many people use the terms interchangeably. However, acid violence is a broader term that refers to the use of acid to cause harm to another person. This may include forcing them to drink or otherwise ingest the acid. Acid attacks are one type of acid violence and typically involve throwing or pouring of acid.
The most common type of acid used is sulpheric acid, which is used in car batteries and is easily available in car garages and car battery stores. In Uganda, one liter of concentrated sulpheric acid can cost as little as one US dollar. Nitric and hydrochloric acid are also sometimes used.
Most survivors are treated in the Burns Unit of Mulago Hospital, located in Kampala. Depending on the severity of their burns, survivors may stay in the hospital for several months or up to a year. Mulago Hospital’s Burns Unit does not have a specialized acid burns treatment unit and there are no psychological services available to survivors.
Acid violence occurs around the globe. It is not specific to race, religion, socioeconomic status, or geographic location. Countries where acid attacks have been reported most frequently are Pakistan, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Nepal, India and Uganda. Research also indicates that acid attacks are more frequent in poor countries. That said, acid attacks happen in some of the most economically developed countries in the world, including the US, England, and Japan.
Research by Acid Survivors Foundation Uganda indicated that there were 382 cases of acid violence in Uganda between 1985 and May 2011. Annual totals in Uganda are shown in Fig.1. Note: the low numbers of reported cases in earlier years likely reflects under-reporting; the actual totals are likely to be much higher. Mulago Hospital reports indicate that there have been 8 reported cases and 2 deaths due to acid violence so far in 2015. Source: Acid Violence in Uganda: A Situational Analysis, Acid Survivors’ Foundation Uganda, 2011 For additional statistics, please see Statistics of Acid Attacks in Uganda, Acid Survivors’ Foundation Uganda and Acid Burns from Personal Assault in Uganda