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Treating scars that never heal

Treating scars that never heal

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Group that assists survivors of acid attacks reports more than 200 attacks since 2006.

Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN

Acid attack victim Keo Sreyvy receives treatment for her burns at a clinic run by the Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity.

Earlier this year, Keo Sreyvy's brother-in-law threw a litre of acid over her. Angered by comments she had made about his treatment of his daughter, he attacked her while she was standing next to his wife, blinding Keo Sreyvy in one eye and hideously disfiguring most of her body.

"At first, I just didn't want to live anymore," she said.

"But my children begged me to continue my life so they could have a mother," she said.

The Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity (CASC) has counted 201 victims of acid attacks that occurred between  March 2006 and June 2009. Of those victims, 79 were men, 91 were women, and 31 were children (which the group defines as those 3 to 14 years old), CASC social worker Vong Sareth told the Post.

Formed in March 2006, the CASC provides vital medical services - which would be expensive to obtain privately - to victims of acid attacks, many of whom have been shunned by their families and communities following the attacks.

Despite the widespread perception that acid attacks result from love triangles gone wrong, 49 percent of those assisted by the CASC said they did not know why they were attacked.

Of cases recorded by the CASC, 18 percent of victims said the attacks were accidents, 16 percent said hate or jealousy was involved, and nine percent said they were the result of extramarital affairs. Four percent blamed family disputes, two percent blamed business disputes, and one percent blamed robbery or land and property disputes.

Vong Sareth said acid attacks seemed to be decreasing, noting that the CASC had recorded just three victims in the first five months of 2009, down from six in the first six months of 2008.

Long Lundy, a medical officer at the CASC, said the victim of an acid attack should "throw water on the wound" to prevent skin damage and stop the burning. Long Lundy added that treatment at the centre is free.

Chhun Sophea, program manager at the CASC, said the courts could play a key role in reducing future attacks.

"If the courts can find justice for the victims of acid attacks, it will help reduce the number of acid incidents," she said.

But Keo Sreyvy said she had "no hope" that she would see justice.

"The courts care about money, not justice, and my brother-in-law knows many people in positions of power," she said.

"After I get better, I will leave from here to be with my children. I cannot work outside my house because it makes me feel suicidal when I see the beauty of other women."

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