Colombia demands govt action following pair of acid attacks against women

Posted on Apr 4 2014 - 2:38pm by Rico
(Photo: Cidipal.org)

The Colombian government announced Thursday it would consider creating a high-level commission to improve the official response to acid attacks against women, which has been heavily criticized in the wake of two gruesome attacks this week.

Natalia Ponce de Leon and Sorleny Pulgarin both suffered severe facial and bodily burns following separate attacks on Thursday and are currently under intensive hospital care. 

 

A previous deadline to implement tougher penalties for such incidents expired three months ago with no official action. A bill signed into law last summer by President Juan Manuel Santos gave the administration until January 2 to develop an effective policy that would also control harmful substances and allocate comprehensive care to victims.

MORE: Colombian legislature raises penalties for acid attacks

“What we’re seeing is the disfunction of the institutions dealing with these cases, while, unfortunately, we continue to register more cases,” said Gloria Stella Diaz, one of the bill’s authors.

Article 3 of the law in question calls for a “Control Register for retail acids, alkalies and any similar corrosive substances that cause damage upon contact with human tissue” with the aim of tracking vendors and consumers. To date, no such system exists.

The requisite “comprehensive care pathway for victims” that would inform victims of their “rights, measures and resources” has also yet to be implemented.

A previous Colombia Reports investigation determined that this sort of “institutional weakness” is one of the leading contributing factors to violence against women in the country.

MORE: Violence against women fueled by machismo culture and ‘institutional weakness’

“What we are seeing is the ineffectiveness of the institutions dealing with these cases…”

According to Deputy Health Minister Fernando Ruiz, the current system covers all treatment for victims of acid attacks, including the costs of reconstructive surgery and psychological support. In an interview with the El Tiempo newspaper, however, Ruiz acknowledged that many health centres lack a set protocol for treating burns victims, and that measures need to be put in place to ensure incidents are properly vetted with investigators and that victims have access to the proper care they are afforded by law.

According to the Office on Legal Medicine, there have been 926 reported acid attacks in Colombia since 2004, the majority of which (565) targeted females, giving Colombia the highest global rate of such attacks, with 1.84 attacks per one-million women.

With 1.77 and .96 attacks per million women, respectively, Bangladesh and Pakistan, which typically attract more media attention for the crimes, both have lower incidence rates than Colombia, according to a report presented by Feminicidio.net. Furthermore, health officials believe that actual figures could be much higher.

Speaking at the close of a citizens’ security forum Thursday, President Santos upped the reward for information on the two most recent attacks to $37,500. So far, no suspects have been announced in ongoing investigations.

Sources

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