Without personal means and support from government, mother of acid attack survivor struggles to pay rising medical costs

- NAYAK PAUDEL, Kathmandu

Jun 16, 2019-

For Kamala Khadka, things are getting more difficult by the day. There’s the pain of having to nurse her daughter, Jenny Khadka, who was attacked with acid by her husband in mid-May and is still recovering from her grievous wounds. And now, there’s also the difficulty of having to meet her rising medical costs.

“Jenny has already undergone six operations,” Kamala told the Post. “I am a single mother and have no job. I can barely pay my rent, I don’t know how I will afford my daughter’s treatment.”

Jenny, 20, was attacked with acid by her husband Bishnu Bhujel, 36, on May 15 over marital difficulties. Bishnu, a mechanic, was arrested that same night. After the attack, Jenny was rushed to Om Hospital from where she was referred to Kirtipur Hospital. But with meagre financial means, Kamala alone cannot bear the costs of her daughter’s treatment.

“Other than some financial support from individuals, I have not received any help from the government,” said Kamala, referring to a governmental provision where victims of acid attacks are provided with financial support. But so far, no support has been forthcoming.

Last week, women’s rights activists had arranged a meeting with Tham Maya Thapa, minister for women, children and senior citizens, at Singha Durbar. But little came out of the meeting, said Kamala.

“I told the minister about my financial problems. I had heard that the government provides immediate relief in cases of acid attacks but we received none,” she said.

She’d attempted to meet with the minister twice before, she said.

“It’s difficult to leave Jenny in the hospital and visit ministries for help,” Kamala told the Post.

Responding to a public interest litigation filed by Sangita Magar, an acid attack survivor, and two others in June 2017, the Supreme Court had ordered the government to provide immediate financial support to cover treatment costs. However, in order to receive financial support from the government, the courts need to issue a final verdict in the case, according to officials at the ministry for women, children and senior citizens.

“When the verdict pronounces someone guilty, that person faces a jail sentence and a fine,” said Rajendra Kumar Paudel, spokesperson for the ministry. “The fine is then provided as compensation to the survivor. And if it is not adequate, then the government provides additional funds.”

However, Bhujel remains with the Metropolitan Police Circle, Kamal Pokhari, after the Kathmandu District Court last week extended his judicial custody until the final verdict.

“The final verdict has yet to come,” said Deputy Superintendent of Police Rabindra Nath Paudel, who’s in charge of the circle.

The court has not set a date for the final verdict.

As per the 2017 Criminal Code, perpetrators can be sentenced to up to eight years in jail and fined a maximum of Rs 500,000 if the victim’s face was injured in an acid or chemical attack. If any of the victim’s other body parts was injured, perpetrators face three years in jail and a fine of Rs 300,000.

But despite these provisions, and a governmental decision to fast track hearings on cases related to violence against women, acid attacks are not a priority.

“A fast-track hearing is conducted in rape cases but in other instances, it is not so effective,” Roshana Pradhan, a lawyer with the Forum for Women, Law and Development, told the Post.

Fast-track hearings not only punish perpetrators but also pave the way for survivors to receive compensation. Nepali courts are notoriously slow when it comes to hearings.

“The government provides financial support only after the final verdict, but sometimes, it can take years for the final verdict to arrive,” said Anita Sapkota Chapagain, a women’s rights activist and senior advocate. “Victims end up suffering more. Either the government should be able to provide support from the very beginning, or cases should be fast-tracked to ensure that the verdict is passed soon.”

Published: 17-06-2019 07:00

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