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Colombia Introduces Harsher Sentences for Acid Attacks

  • Colombian acid attack victim, Natalia Ponce De Leon, at the launch of her book

    Colombian acid attack victim, Natalia Ponce De Leon, at the launch of her book "Rebirth of Natalia Ponce de Leon" in Bogotá on Apr. 16, 2015. | Photo: Reuters

Published 27 November 2015

Colombia has one of the highest rates of chemical attacks in the world. Most victims are women.

The Colombian Senate has passed a bill that will impose harsher penalties on those found guilty of acid attacks.

The law stipulates that those who "use any type of chemical agent" to intentionally harm someone will be imprisoned for between 12 and 20 years. Those who permanently disfigure their victim could face up to 50 years in prison.

Under the bill passed Wednesday, perpetrators can also expect to receive fines of up to US$620,000.

Under the previous law, acid attacks were classified as a “personal injury,” with only two people charged for carrying them outout of some 2,000 reported cases in Colombia.

Maria Cuervo, 41, poses at her home in Bogota March 5 with a photo of herself before a stranger threw acid at her face in 2004. | Photo: AFP

The new legislation is named after acid attack victim Natalia Ponce, who was left severely disfigured after an assault in 2014 at the door of her apartment. Ponce was attacked by a man she had met 20 years prior who poured approximately 1 liter of sulphuric acid over her face and body.

Ponce is thankful for the new legislation, which she hopes will reduce the numbers of such attacks in Colombia. "Thanks to Congress for listening to me and understanding that these types of attacks are not just a simple attempt to personally injure someone but to end our lives,” she said.

The bill requires the signature of President Manuel Santos before it can take effect.

ANALYSIS7 Things Statistics Won’t Tell You about Violence against Women

Acid attacks are fast becoming an epidemic in Colombia, with more than 100 cases of physical harm caused by chemical agents reported in 2014 alone, and 1,000 in the past decade. Per capita Colombia has one of the highest rates of acid attacks in the world, according to Acid Survivors Trust International.

A study by Colombia's National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences revealed that of the 926 victims of acid attacks from 2004 to 2014, 565 were women.

The leader of the Bogotá Women’s Secretariat, Lucía Sánchez Segura, said that most men who attack women are motivated by a sense of entitlement to love and, when their desires are unrequited, have a "clear mission to destroy their (victim’s) identity."

“Most of the male victims are attacked in the torso,” she added. “Women tend to get splashed in their face and neck.”

VIDEO: Colombia: Victim of Acid Attack Speaks

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