A 3-year-old girl was killed and her 46-year-old grandmother severely burned when acid was thrown on them as they slept in their Kampot province home Jan 16, relatives and police said Tuesday.
Thorm Saroeun was sleeping beside her granddaughter Thai Tim at around midnight in her house in Angkor Chey district’s Dambok Khpos commune when an unknown perpetrator approached the pair and doused them both with a very corrosive type of acid.
The victim did not see her perpetrator, but Thorm Saroeun’s son said he suspects the jealous wife of a man who works with his mother.
Thorm Saroeun, who sustained burns to 30 percent of her body, lay wrapped almost entirely in gauze Tuesday afternoon on a bed at the Children’s Surgical Center on Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changvar peninsula, where she arrived the evening of Jan 17 and is currently receiving treatment free of charge.
Pich Nary, a cousin who lived next door, said that she ran over to Thorm Saroeun’s house after hearing her shout for help. Thorm Saroeun’s skin was very red and she was pouring water over her face and body, while most of the hair had been burned from the top of the child’s head and some of her skin was falling off.
Neighbors helped rent a taxi and they arrived at Takeo provincial hospital—which was 100 km away, but closer to their home than the Kampot provincial hospital—at around 2 am.
Takeo health officials referred them to Phnom Penh, but the transport was costly, and Thai Tim died at 9 am while negotiations to rent transport were still underway, Pich Nary said.
Acid violence, usually associated with crimes of passion, is a relatively common form of revenge in Cambodia.
Kong Sokhorn, deputy police chief for Kampot province, said that he could not speculate as to who the suspect may be on such little evidence, but that police were investigating the matter.
He said the attack was the fourth in his province. The last one was in 2005, and all three previous attacks involved a party seeking revenge in a love triangle. He said only one suspect in one of the cases had been apprehended.
Jim Gollogly, who is treating the victim at CSC, said by telephone that Thorn Saroeun was doing well and had undergone two operations already, but that he could not give a definitive prognosis.
“People with 30 percent burns usually die,” he added.
Nora Lindstrom, project manager at CSC’s sister organization Cambodia Acid Survivors Charity, said infections can take several days to surface after acid attacks and that Thorm Saroeun is not yet out of danger.
She said her organization has an ambulance that can be dispatched for emergencies and that the proper response to acid attacks is to first pour lots of water on the victim and then immediately seek medical attention at a hospital.
Lindstrom said legal reform in Cambodia is needed to ensure a decrease in acid violence and that she would like to see acid violence cases fast-tracked in the judicial process and specifically mentioned in the criminal law.
“There needs to be uniform mandatory punishment that doesn’t depend on who is on trial, but on what they did,” she said.
“[Thorm Saroeun] has been maimed for life,” she said, adding that if she survives, she will likely develop skin contractions that limit her range of motion.
“It’s a life sentence for her—surely the perpetrator should receive something similar,” Lindstrom said.
In Bangladesh, where acid violence is also common, there has been a significant drop in acid attacks in recent years since becoming mentioned in the criminal law and a special court system specifically dealing with acid violence has evolved as a result, she added.