sulphuric acid sales to prevent attacks
A woman raises up a placard during a protest about acid attacks (Photo ARYA JAFARI/AFP/Getty Images)

by REENA KUMAR

A campaigner against acid attacks is urging the government to bring in a licensing system to
clamp down on the sales of sulphuric acid in a bid to prevent further attacks.

Jaf Shah, executive director of Acid survivors Trust International (Asti), which works to end acid violence at a global level, told Eastern Eye he was shocked by the substantial rise in UK incidents.

According to recent figures, there were more than 450 acid attacks in London last year and the number of incidents in the city has more than
doubled since 2014.

Findings from the charity show that the UK has one of the highest number of recorded attacks in the world.

Shah said there were virtually no controls in place to curb sales of the highly dangerous, concentrated sulphuric acid, which can be bought from hardware stores and is often used to burn and seriously disfigure victims.

Jaf Shah works to end acid violence at a global level.

Household products that may have a diluted form of acid such as drain-cleaner and toilet cleaner are also often used in attacks according to Shah.

He told Eastern Eye: “We’re recommending that the government bring in a licensing system where any licence has to be issued by the Home Office, so anyone interested in purchasing concentrated acid should be making an application to the Home Office providing all the necessary details.

The other measure is to introduce limits to the purchase of acid. You could prevent cash sales and limit them through debit and credit cards so payments can be traced and tracked, which would aid any police investigation.”

Schoolchildren as young as 13 have been reported for using corrosive substances as weapons in Britain.

Shah said part of the reason we were seeing a rise in attacks was possibly related to a greater clampdown and harsher penalties and laws related to dealing with gun and knife crime.

“There are specific offences relating to carrying those weapons and using them and that’s not the case for acid. The fact you can purchase 96 per cent sulphuric acid from a shop without ID or a licence means that as a weapon it is very cheap because it only costs £8 to buy a litre and there are no penalties or charges in terms of carrying this potential weapon.

“The damage an acid attack has on an intended victim is pretty huge, the traumatic effects on a physical and psychological level are very long term.”

The executive director described the crime as a hidden form of violence and added that those who were targeted were often reluctant to report cases to the police due to fears of reprisal attacks.

Speaking about the devastating and long lasting physical and psychological effects of an acid attack, Shah said: “Many survivors end up with permanent scars and many survivors suffer
some form of disability particularly blindness because the face is often targeted.”

“On top of the physical distress and pain, you also have the psychological element– many survivors fall into a deep depression as a result of the attack.

“They have a sense of fear and anxiety, which leads to depression and social isolation so many survivors require psychological counselling and that can run for years because people find it very hard to come to terms with their new appearance.”

A spokesperson for the Home Office said shops have to report children or teenagers
acting suspiciously when they buy acid or strong household cleaners.

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