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A New Law in Colombia Promises to Tackle the Country’s High Level of Acid Attacks

The South American country suffers from an unusually high number of such attacks, with about 100 reported every year.
January 19, 2016, 12:25am
Imagen por Mauricio Dueñas/EPA

Colombia's president, Juan Manuel Santos, has signed a law on acid attacks that gives harsher sentences to perpetrators.

"We don't want to continue to occupy the dishonorable position of being one of the leading countries in the world in terms of acid attack numbers," Santos said during the signing ceremony.

The South American country suffers from an unusually high number of such attacks, that are more commonly associated with South Asia, particularly against women and children.

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The National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Science has registered 1,037 attacks since 2004. The victims were women in 548 of the cases, with the majority in their 20s and 30s. It is thought that many other cases are not reported.

Related: Colombian Woman's Case Could Establish Domestic Violence as a Basis for Refugee Status

The new law foresees at least 12-30 years in prison — depending on the severity of damage — for deliberate attacks using acid.

Assaults with acid were previously prosecuted within the general category of crimes of physical aggression, such as assault, and carried much weaker sentences.

Attacks against minors and those that result in death are now punishable by up to 50 years in prison. Acid attacks that don't cause physical harm carry a sentence of one to five years.

The Natalia Ponce law is named after a woman who was attacked by a neighbor in March 2014, leaving scars over her face and one third of her body.

Ponce, who became a vocal campaigner for the rights of victims, usually wears a mask in public, but revealed her face for the first time at the signing of the law.

"Colombia urgently needs a unit of care for burn victims," she said.

The attack against Ponce sparked a national debate, with a social media campaign, using the hashtag #FuerzaNataliaPoncedeLeón or Strength to Natalia Ponce de León, gaining thousands of supporters.

When the law passed through congress in November 2015, she thanked lawmakers for "understanding that these types of attacks are not just a simple attempt to personally injure someone but to end our lives."

Related: Colombia May Finally Do Something About Acid Attacks on Women

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