EDITORIAL: Welcome ordinance

The tendency on the part of the govt to bypass the parliament to bring new laws is unbecoming of a democratic norms

President Bidhya Devi Bhandari is all set to authenticate two ordinances that will, hopefully, serve as deterrents to acid attacks in the future. In the last few years, there has been a spurt in the incidents of acid attacks in the country, with people expressing outrage and demanding harsher punishment and regulating the sale and distribution of acids in the market.

Following much hue and cry over the growing number of acid attacks in the country on girls and women, although not limited to females alone, the Women and Social Committee of the House of Representatives had recently directed the government to amend the existing legal provisions related to the crime. The Criminal Code Act criminalises acid attacks, but the provision does not do enough to deter perpetrators from involving in them. Under the existing law, perpetrators of acid attacks face a maximum jail term of eight years. The new ordinance now hands down a tough jail term of 20 years and a fine of Rs 1 million to the perpetrator of the crime should it cause serious injuries to the victims.

But even the harsh punishment may not please many, especially the victims who have been demanding life sentences, or even the death penalty which was abolished in the country following the advent of multiparty democracy in 1990. What the victims – some no more than school-going students - have to endure on a daily basis needs no elaboration.

There is that trauma of having to live with a disfigured face or limb throughout one’s life, besides inability to find work in the formal sector and meet the resources to undergo multiple surgeries.

There are just a handful of hospitals in Kathmandu that cater to burn victims. Recovery is often slow, and cosmetic surgery is expensive. Some victims are known to have spent millions of rupees on it to regain some of their beauty and youthfulness.

The victims would, thus, like to see the perpetrator foot the entire bill of treament. As some solace, the government recently announced that it would pay for the total treatment of the victims as well as their education and help find work for them in accordance with their age.

While the new ordinances on acid attacks are highly welcome, the tendency on the part of the government to bypass the House of Representatives to bring new laws is unbecoming of a democratic government.

This is nothing but circumventing the democratic exercise to bring fresh laws. A wider discussion on the issue in the parliament and with the civil society outside would have invited more feedback on how to deal with the crime. With the ordinances coming in place, the government’s ability to regulate the sale and distribution of acids will go a long way in curbing acid attacks in the country. As of now, acids are widely available in the market as they are used for cleaning purposes, especially in the bathrooms.

Strict monitoring and supervision of their sale will make sure that acids are not procured by unscrupulous people for wrong purposes. And in this regard, we could learn from some of the safeguards being adopted in our neighbouring countries, such as India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, where acid attacks are a very big problem.

Take precautions

Local level officials in Laxmipur Patari Rural Municipality and Mirchaiya Municipality of Siraha district have decided to open the community schools that have remained closed for the last six months due to the coronavirus, which has affected the entire nation since March-end. The government decided to shut down all educational institutes across the country citing rising cases of the virus. Province-2 is the worst affected region, where the people are not seen maintaining social distancing or using face masks.

Both the municipalities have decided to reopen the schools in two shifts by making it mandatory for students and teachers to use face masks and maintain social distancing by following the health protocols.

The municipalities’ decision to reopen the schools may pose serious health risks to the children as they are the most vulnerable group susceptible to the contagious disease. If a student contracts the virus, he or she may not only transmit the disease to the teachers, but also spread it to the parents and the entire community. Extra-precautions must be taken before the municipalities take any hasty decision to reopen the community schools.