THOUGH a committee tasked with drafting acid legislation has so far focused largely on setting punishments for perpetrators of acid crimes, officials and those who advocate on behalf of victims say the challenge of regulating acid sales is just as important, if not more so.
Acid vendors, however, have expressed concerns that restrictions on the sale of acid could negatively affect their businesses, something Ouk Kimlek, the committee’s deputy director, says he is hoping to avoid.
“This law does not affect their businesses, both import and export,” he said Monday. “What we want is to reduce the number of acid attacks, not reduce [the number of] acid sellers.”
At its most recent meeting on Friday, Ouk Kimlek said, the committee touched on the regulation of acid sales but “focused strongly on the punishment, because this is the very important thing”.
However, Chhun Sophea, programme manager at the Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity, said that although the enforcement of harsh sentences for acid crimes is important, the successful regulation of sales could have a bigger impact in reducing attacks.
“As far as I’m concerned, regulation of sales should be the priority because acid is available everywhere, and so easily,” she said.
A 20-point draft law – which was written largely by Ouk Kimlek – currently before the committee would require that all acid sellers be licenced, and that both acid sellers and buyers carry identification proving that they are older than 20.
Chhun Sophea said she supported the licence requirement, though she added that it need not necessarily apply to those vendors selling diluted forms of the corrosive substance that are typically used for household tasks such as unblocking drains.
“There shouldn’t be a concentrated form that eats away your skin, your face, your bones, so easily available – there should be a diluted form available for general public use,” she said.
However, she acknowledged that distinguishing between the two groups would not be easy. Though battery and acid sellers interviewed by the Post on Monday said their products could not cause serious injuries because they were diluted, Chhun Sophea said it was unlikely that this was always the case.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if battery acid sellers are selling pure acid. That’s how these people get hold of it,” she said.
Beyond licences and age limits, Chhun Sophea said, warning labels on acid containers should be required by the law, a stipulation she said would cut down on attacks and reduce the number of injuries resulting from acid “accidents”.
“Bottles should be clearly marked ‘danger’ – people drink it sometimes,” she said, adding that acid is often contained in water bottles.
Ouk Kimlek said Monday that the committee was planning to meet with vendors for a second time – a similar meeting took place in February – before finalising its version of the law, which it expects to do shortly after Khmer New Year.
He added: “I ordered the police to record how many acid sellers and acid shops there are in Phnom Penh and other places, and where they buy acid from, because at the meeting in February I tried my best to ask them where they buy acid from, but no one replied. I don’t understand why,” he said.
Acid sellers on Monday conveyed a mixed response to regulations proposed by the committee. Some said it would be difficult to enforce such rules damaging business.
Ben An, owner of the Peace Battery Shop near Russian Market, said she was worried she would lose customers if the sales restrictions were to go into effect.
“I am worried the law will affect my business ... because I can lose customers who buy lots of acid,” she said. “Some of my customers buy 20 litres or more, and if the law needs us to inform the police or authority if someone buys acid a lot, then they will not buy any more next time.”
She added that she already adheres to an informal set of rules when selling acid products. “I used to have some women who come from somewhere to buy acid from my shop, but I did not sell to them because they acted very angry,” she said.
“I did not sell to them even though they offered me a very high price.”
She added that she believes all vendors should ask customers what they want to use the acid for.
However, Ros Sokhara, who also owns a shop that sells battery acid, said it would be impossible for her to discern what customers wanted to do with the acid.
“I don’t know whether the customers buy my acid for dousing each other or for another thing. I think only about my sales. I don’t care what they will do with it,” she said.
Vy Davuth, another battery and acid seller, applauded the government for working to reduce acid attacks, but echoed other vendors’ concerns that he could stand to lose business as a result.
“I am afraid of losing clients … [but] I think it will reduce the anarchical use of acid to douse or kill someone after we have the acid law,” he said.