The government committee tasked with drafting legislation against acid attacks is considering provisions for the treatment and rehabilitation of victims, an official said Thursday.
“Acid attack victims suffer much more severely, both physically and mentally, than other types of victims,” said Teng Savong, a police general and secretary of state for the Ministry of Interior.
Rights groups have called for more measures to help victims of the disfiguring attacks, which are a common form of retribution in Cambodia. Teng Savong said the changes to the draft came from feedback from rights groups and others.
The law, which has five chapters and 25 articles, requires distributors of acid—which is also used in batteries—to register for licenses. It carries a sentence of two to five years and a fine up to 10 million riel, or $2,500, for perpetrators of attacks that injure someone; and a 30-year to life sentence if a victim is disabled for life or killed.
The drafting committee is also discussing the inclusion of provisions for strict recordkeeping for distributors, to help track down purchases of acid, Teng Savong said.
Chhun Chenda Sophea, a project manager for the Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity, said punishing the perpetrators is not enough. The victims need damages and reparations and need to find skills to start their lives over.
“One acid burn victim causes a burden on society,” she said. “So there should be damages and treatment service for them.”
The draft law should also add provisions for a public campaign to educate people on first aid techniques for acid burns, she said.
Rights workers warn that the law will only work if it is effectively enforced.
“Acid crimes will prevail if perpetrators are not afraid of weak law enforcement,” said Chan Soveth, a lead investigator for Adhoc.
A 2003 report by Licadho found only six people tried of 13 arrested suspects in 44 acid attacks committed between 1999 and 2003.
The nitric or sulfuric acid used in the attacks is badly scarring and is generally used by wives jealous of their husbands’ mistresses. The acid can be so disfiguring that a victim can become unrecognizable to family, lose her job or lose her spouse.
“It is an extremely brutal act,” said Thorng Kham, who lost her right eye when she was doused with acid by an unknown assailant 20 years ago. “It hurts terribly, and you lose everything, your business, your time, and even your family, just because of the acid.”