KATHMANDU (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - In early 2015, 16-year-old Sangita Magar was in a tuition centre in the Nepali capital Kathmandu when a young man burst into the room and flung acid at her, injuring Magar and her friend.
Magar, who suffered burns to her face, chest, stomach and legs in the attack, has still not received official compensation, as there is no provision in Nepali law for an immediate payment.
That is about to change, as Nepal’s Supreme Court, in response to a petition by rights group Forum for Women, Law and Development (FWLD), last month ordered the government to amend the law to ensure victims of acid attacks and burning receive immediate compensation and critical care.
“Once the law is reformed, at least victims of future burning and acid attacks will benefit,” Sabin Shrestha at FWLD told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Magar risks losing her eyesight if she does not receive urgent treatment, and will probably not benefit even if the law were to be amended, Shrestha said.
There are about 40 reported cases of burns and acid attacks every year in Nepal, with nearly three-quarters of the victims women, according to New York-based charity Donor Direct Action, citing non-profit Burns Violence Survivors Nepal.
Globally, as many as 1,500 acid attacks are recorded every year. However, many attacks go unreported because victims are afraid of reprisals from their abusers.
In many of these cases, victims are blinded or disfigured by jilted partners or relatives for not bringing adequate dowry, for refusing a man’s advances or in property related disputes.
Under current Nepali law, anyone found guilty of such a crime can be sentenced to up to eight years in jail and a fine or victim compensation of up to 300,000 Nepali rupees ($2,900).
In reality, only a small amount is given to a victim, and never before a final decision is made, which can take years.
Meanwhile, victims may not be able to afford the medical care they need, and risk permanent damage, Shrestha said.
Officials say changing the law may take time because of political uncertainty in Nepal, with a new constitution prepared in 2015 rejected by some ethnic groups, and a new prime minister taking office just this month.
“We have not received a formal court order yet,” said Dilli Raj Ghimire, a spokesman for the law ministry.
“Drafting the changes and completing parliamentary procedures before they become law will take time,” he said, without specifying a time frame.
Campaigners say they would also like to see the government close a loophole that denies compensation to acid attack and burn victims in some cases, including those related to their attackers.
“This is a landmark judgment, but more needs to be done,” Donor Direct Action said on its website.
($1 = 103.123 Nepali rupees)
Writing by Rina Chandran @rinachandran, Editing by Ros Russell. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.