By Michael Aboneka
Acid violence or acid attacks continues to rise in Uganda and unfortunately, not much attention has been focused on the vice. There are over 400 known/reported cases of acid attacks in the last 10 years whose effect has been severe leaving lifelong scarring, physical disfigurement, and in some cases, permanent disability including blindness and immobility and death. Many survivors spend more than a year or more in the hospital after their attack, undergoing extensive and expensive treatment and surgeries.
About 84% of the incidents are related to conflicts in romantic relationships, 10% to business conflicts, 3% to property conflicts and 3% are related to other reasons. 70% of the victims are women while 30 % are men. These attacks continue to skyrocket and if we do not take deliberate measures, many lives will be claimed by this iniquitous act.
Government has the fully responsibility to protect its citizens and therefore, it must be seen interested in no only discussions but taking active steps together with various stakeholders to ensure that this vice is curbed. There are several contributing factors to the rising numbers of acid attacks which we need to objectively evaluate and devise means of mitigating the same.
The acid is readily available and cheap. Several reports have indicated that one can acquire one litre of the Acid at only 3,000 Uganda shillings at various spots and shops which are rarely licensed and monitored, it is an open market! This therefore means, that with just 3,000 Uganda shillings coupled with the high poverty rates, purchasing acid is considered cheaper and accessible than other means of causing harm.
Several victims have narrated their ordeals and what is common in all their stories is that they could not easily and quickly discern that their tormentors had on them acid as it is difficult to tell as most perpetrators use disguised containers to ferry the deadly chemical. The unregulated large supply of the acid especially from car batteries has escalated this vice. The readily available acid, even in one’s own car makes it an easier optional weapon to use than any other.
Be it as it may, we have weak laws to curb regulate the availability and purchase of acid on the market. Acid is easily accessible as the vendors are not regulated, nor licensed and further, not monitored. It becomes difficult to trace the source of the acid bought because of lack of adequate regulations on the sale of the same.
Just as it is with petrol, there were regulations banning the purchase of petrol in jerrycans given its flammability but most importantly, to try to curb acts of arson. This has not been implemented well because of the reluctance of the authorities and thus has had an indirect impact on the trading of the acid in all manners of containers.
Much as government passed the Toxic Chemicals and Prohibition Act in 2016, the vice still lingers. The Act’s main purpose was to domesticate of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and On Their Destruction and less of tackling issues of monitoring and regulating the mist common acid-sulfuric acid. The Act does not even list the sulfuric acid, which is commonly available and used as a “toxic chemical” thus making the fight against the acid attacks almost in limbo. The Act further created the National Chemicals Regulatory Authority mandated to establish a register of producers, importers, exporters, brokers and traders of scheduled and other toxic chemicals and also regulate the production, importation, transfer of toxic chemicals.
I have not seen nor heard about this Authority, I am not sure it is existent and performing its functions. It is therefore, difficult, with the current legal framework to pin down the trade of acid that is too casual and yet has grave effects. Much as the perpetrators have been charged under the Penal Code Act
Much as the perpetrators have been charged under the Penal Code Act for offences such as grievous bodily harm, manslaughter and murder, the scope is only limited to the final offender. There is need to make the laws robust so that the entire chain from the supply to the final user/offender is arrested. Arresting the source of the acid will go a long away in curbing the vice.
Michael Aboneka is a partner at Thomas & Michael Advocates, Director Envirogreen Trust Ltd and Member of International Society of Public Law & World Youth Alliance.