Acid Attacks & Stove Burning

last updated June 2010

What Are Acid Attacks?
An acid attack is an act in which an attacker throws or sprays acid in the face or body of the victim, leading to permanent disfigurement or scarring. Hydrochloric, sulfuric, and nitric acid are the most commonly used types of acid, as they are not only readily available, but also burn flesh and bone quickly. Victims are often under 25 years of age and although death is seldom the goal of the perpetrator, it often occurs as a result of the complications that occur when someone is unable to receive medical treatment in a timely manner.
In addition to psychological trauma, social exclusion, and ostracism, victims often lose their eyesight and skin tissue. Although the practice occurs throughout the world, including in countries like the United States, Uganda, and Ethiopia, it has emerged in many parts of south Asia as a common method of punishing women for various “infractions” ranging from denying the sexual advances of a suitor, to family-related disputes, to the delayed preparation of a meal.
Prevalence of Acid Attacks
Although a study by the Secretary General on all forms of violence against women showed that traditional harmful practices such as acid throwing are under-documented and there is a need for better data collection in such areas, organizations like the Acid Survivor’s Foundation (ASF) provide useful data on this practice. The ASF recorded that between 1999 and 2010, there have been approximately 2500 incidents and 3000 survivors of acid attacks.
Acid attacks have been found to be prevalent in Bangladesh, India, and Cambodia. Bangladesh has the highest incidence of acid violence in the world, with 9% of all burn injuries attributable to this type violence. These numbers are, however, decreasing as the country has implemented legislation penalizing the practice. Although men are primarily the perpetrators, being responsible for attacks in at least 80% of cases, women sometimes attack other women. In an effort to eliminate competition and secure financial resources, women have reportedly attacked their husband’s mistresses or partner’s wives.

What Is Stove Burning?
The practice of stove burning originally involved a woman being burned alive through the deliberate tampering with a stove, causing an explosion. Another formulation occurs when the husband or other family member douses a woman in the stove’s kerosene oil before setting her on fire. Such incidents can be motivated by anger concerning dowry issues or by a failure to produce a male child, but is frequently an escalation of prior domestic abuse. 

Prevalence of Stove Burning
It is difficult to estimate the prevalence of stove burning, since often these incidents are reported as accidents or suicides, leading to inadequate police response or a failure to investigate. Such incidents are prevalent in both India and Pakistan, as well as Southeast Asia generally
Acid Survivor’s Foundation. (2005). Acid violence.
Combating Acid Violence in Bangladesh, India, and Cambodia. (2011). A Report by the Avon Global Center for Women and Justice at Cornell Law School.
Interview with Salma Ali of the Bangladesh National Woman Lawyers’ Association. (2009).
United Nations ESCAP. (n.d.). "Harmful traditional practices in three countries of South Asia: Culture, human rights, and violence against women." Gender and Development Discussion Paper Series No. 21. 
United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. (2007). "Violence against women: Harmful traditional and cultural practices in the Asian and Pacific region."