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Acid throwing, also called an acid attack, a vitriol attack or vitriolage, is a form of violent assault defined as the act of throwing acid or a similarly corrosive substance onto the body of another “with the intention to disfigure, maim, torture, or kill”. Perpetrators of these attacks throw corrosive liquids 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 and nitric acid. Hydrochloric acid is sometimes used, but is much less damaging. Aqueous solutions of strongly alkaline materials, such as caustic soda (sodium hydroxide), are used as well, particularly in areas where strong acids are controlled substances.
The long term consequences of these attacks may include blindness, as well as permanent scarring of the face and body, along with far-reaching social, psychological, and economic difficulties. Today, acid attacks are reported in many parts of the world. Since the 1990s, Bangladesh has been reporting the highest number of attacks and highest incidence rates for women, with 3,512 Bangladeshi people acid attacked between 1999 and 2013, and in Pakistan acid attacks are at an all-time high and increasing every year. Although acid attacks occur all over the world, this type of violence is most common in South Asia.
Many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been formed in the areas with the highest occurrence of acid attacks to combat such attacks. 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 own Acid Survivors Foundation, and in Cambodia which uses the help of Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity. NGOs provide rehabilitation services for survivors while acting as advocates for social 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. The Depilex Smileagain Foundation and 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 provides counseling and rehabilitation treatment to victims, as well as their families. The LICADHO, the Association of the Blind in Cambodia, and the Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity assist survivors of acid attacks. The Acid Survivors Foundation India operates from different centres with national headquarters at Kolkata and chapters at Delhi and Mumbai.
Acid Survivors Trust International (UK registered charity no. 1079290) provides specialist support to its sister organizations in Africa and Asia. Acid Survivors Trust International is the only international organisation whose sole purpose is to end acid violence. The organisation was founded in 2002 and now works with a network of six Acid Survivors Foundations in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Uganda that it has helped to form. Acid Survivors Trust International has helped to provide medical expertise and training to partners, raised valuable funds to support survivors of acid attacks and helped change laws. A key role for ASTI is to raise awareness of acid violence to an international audience so that increased pressure can be applied to governments to introduce stricter controls on the sale and purchase of acid.