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Dispelling acid attack myths

Detailed survey of victims highlights info ranging from motives to geography.

ROUGHLY one-quarter of acid burn victims are injured accidentally, and, contrary to popular belief, fewer than 10 percent of acid attacks are fuelled by love triangles, according to a new report from a local NGO that outlines recommendations for an inter-ministerial committee tasked with drafting legislation to curtail acid crimes.

The report, titled Breaking the Silence: Addressing Acid Attacks in Cambodia, draws from the cases of 236 acid victims recorded by the Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity (CASC) between 1985 and 2009.

CASC programme manager Chhun Sophea said Thursday that the report, which will be submitted to the committee on Monday, offers the most detailed survey of acid crimes produced by the charity to date, and that it is intended to assist the committee as it prepares a final draft law, which is expected this year.

“This is just an effort to reach out and work with the committee,” she said, and added that the CASC believes the government should adopt a multifaceted approach to combating acid attacks that touches on punishments for perpetrators, the regulation of acid sales, public awareness and victim assistance.

The attacks recorded in the report spanned 21 provinces, though Kampong Cham was the site of 41 percent, by far the largest portion. The report suggests this could be because of the high number of rubber plantations there.

“There seems to be a prima facie correlation between incidence of attack, and availability of acid,” the report states. “In Kampong Cham province, where acid is widely available due to its use in the process of making rubber, there is a relatively high rate of acid related crimes compared to other provinces.”

The next most common site of acid attacks was Phnom Penh, where 16 percent of those included in the report occurred.

In terms of demographics, 47 percent of acid burn victims surveyed were male, and 13 percent were children. Though the report did not delve into the socioeconomic backgrounds of victims, Chhun Sophea said Thursday that the victims CASC sees are generally poor.

When asked to list possible motives that led to their attacks, some 19 percent of victims surveyed said they either did not know why they were attacked or declined to specify what they believed the reason was.

Only 9 percent of victims cited extramarital affairs, a statistic that Chhun Sophea said could do much to dispel the widely accepted view that such attacks always involve love triangles.

This view, she said, could be contributing to officials’ apparent reluctance to bring acid cases to court, with law enforcement officials reasoning that attacks resulting from private disputes should be settled privately unless victims file criminal complaints.

Though no statistics are provided, the report asserts that “perpetrators of acid violence regularly escape prosecution and conviction for their crimes”.

Often, Chhun Sophea said, acid victims do not see filing a complaint as a top priority.

“The victim is often busy treating themselves and looking after their children,” she said, adding: “The court should prosecute whether or not the victim makes a complaint.”

Shaping the law
Speaking at a monthly meeting of acid survivors hosted by CASC on Thursday, Ziad Samman, the charity’s coordinator, highlighted the prevalence of accidental attacks by pointing to the example of a young girl who suffered burns when her mother accidentally washed her with acid.

“It was in a Sprite bottle, and her mother tried to wash her with it,” he said.

In order to reduce the number of accidental burns, the report calls on the inter-ministerial committee producing the draft law on acid crimes to include a provision requiring that acid containers be tagged with clear warning labels.

Other recommendations included in the report parrot what the CASC has been advocating since the government announced that the committee had been formed in February, following a spate of reported acid crimes beginning in December. These include harsh punishments for perpetrators, as well as government-sponsored efforts to combat discrimination.

Ouk Kimlek, undersecretary of state at the Interior Ministry and the deputy director of the committee, said Wednesday that its members would welcome civil society input as they debate various articles.

He added that the committee would meet at the end of this month to discuss the draft law, but declined to say when it would be completed.



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