The most important thing in controlling the misuse of acids is to regulate the sale and distribution of harmful chemicals

Three minors sustained injuries, one of them critically, while celebrating the Holi festival in Sankhu area of Shankarapur Municipality on Sunday. They were injured after a jar containing sulphuric acid was hurled at them 'accidentally' by their own friends, according to police. The injured include a 16-year-old girl, who is in critical condition as her face and other body parts were seriously burnt, and two boys aged 11 and nine years. They are now undergoing treatment at a local hospital. Police said the minors who were playing Holi accidentally threw the acid placed 'carelessly' in a dairy shop, assuming that it was a water jar. Dairy shops often keep large amounts of sulphuric acid to check for fat in milk. Although detailed investigation is going on, the preliminary report suggests that the children must have mistaken the acid for water as it was kept nearby the shelf where milk and water jars are usually kept. Sulphuric acid looks like water and does not emit any smell. Police have arrested two minors and the dairy shop owner for further investigation. Although police have not filed any charges against the minors, the dairy shop owner has been charged with carelessly placing the harmful chemical within the reach of children.

After incidents of acid attacks, mostly targetting girls and women, became widespread across the country over the years, the government last September-end issued two separate ordinances to punish the acid attackers and to regulate the sale and distribution of acids. The government decided to introduce the ordinances at the request of rights activists and the victims of the acid attacks. One ordinance proposes harsh punishment of upto 20 years in jail, a fine of Rs 1 million or both for the acid attackers. It was considered to act as a deterrent to control the heinous crime. The victims of acid attacks suffer lifelong and also undergo physical, social and mental trauma as their face and body parts are badly burnt or damaged beyond the possibility of cure. Over a dozen girls and women have become victims of acid attacks across the country over the last three years.

The ordinances cannot come into force unless the federal parliament endorses them to make laws.

However, the government has been unable to table the ordinances in the parliament due to the boycott of the House by the opposition parties over a controversial ordinance on the Constitutional Council Act.

Effectiveness of an ordinance becomes null and void if it is not passed within 60 days of the start of the House session. The ordinances related to the sale, distribution and use of acid and other harmful chemicals as well as the provision of punishment must be passed without delay so that nobody will be able to use them to take personal revenge. The acid suppliers should also print shiny labels on acid products with warning signs about their harmful effects.

As sulphuric acid is widely used for household chores, it should be kept away from the reach of children, and it should also not be kept at home unnecessarily for a long time. The most important thing is to regulate and monitor the sale and distribution of harmful chemicals, and they should be sold to the buyers only after documenting their identity.

Health for all

It is indeed laudable that the Social Health Insurance Scheme of the government will soon cover all the 77 districts of the country. The scheme currently covers 69 districts, and the remaining districts will see its implementation from next week. However, this is not to say that all the Nepali people have been insured. So far, only 1.7 million have bought this policy, which entitles a family of upto five members to get medical treatment and medicines worth Rs 100,000 for an annual premium of Rs 3,500. The health services are provided from 375 health facilities – both government and private – designated by the government.

Like education, health is becoming almost unaffordable for the common people. Treatment in a private clinic or hospital is simply out of bounds for most of the people in Nepal. Hence, an affordable health insurance policy is the need of the hour. However, many people would not even know that such an insurance scheme of the government exists in the country. A door-to-door campaign would help expand insurance coverage both in the urban and rural areas. Also to entice more families towards the policy, it is equally important to see that the health facilities provide quality care and treatment.

A version of this article appears in the print on March 31, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.