Chhuon Yem’s right breast, where her month-old daughter was nursing when Chhuon Yem was attacked by her husband’s mistress on July 29, is now part of a continuous terrain of dead skin and pus that covers her arm, chest and neck. Her face is burned entirely. Only a nub remains of her left ear.
As a doctor at Preah Kossamak Hospital poured antiseptic over her body and scrubbed the wounds with cotton Wednesday, Chhuon Yem convulsed. She beat her feet together. Tears rolled from the swollen slit that is now her right eye. She did not make a sound.
“It is difficult to explain, this pain,” the 31-year-old from Takeo province’s Tram Kak district said later from her hospital bed. But her own wounds, she said, were not her greatest concern. “I feel sympathy for my baby,” she said. “I worry about her future.”
Rights workers said Wednesday the baby, Uy Phoan, is the youngest acid attack victim they have heard of.
An officer with the rights group Licadho, which is assisting the mother and child, said Wednesday that the baby’s condition was stable, though her chances for survival were uncertain.
Uy Phoan, who is now at Kantha Bopha I Hospital, suffered severe burns to her head, neck and arms, said Hoeur Sethul, coordinator of Licadho’s Project Against Torture. The baby is the latest in a growing group of unintentional victims of attacks using acid, often from car or motorcycle batteries, as a weapon.
Nearly one-third of all people injured in acid attacks are not the intended victims but innocent bystanders, said Jason Barber, a consultant to Licadho’s Project Against Torture. Licadho monitors reports of acid attacks nationwide.
Children are frequently the victims of undiscriminating perpetrators targeting a nearby relative or other bystander, Barber said.
In April, three children aged 13, 8, and 3 were splattered with acid in an attack on their pregnant mother. The 34 victims of acid attacks in 2003 included five children, the youngest of whom was 6, Barber said. A 5-year-old was hit with acid thrown by his mother in a 2002 attack intended for his father. Two brothers, aged 12 and 10, were injured, one severely, in an attack that killed their mother in 1999.
For young children, such injuries can be extremely dangerous and life-threatening, Barber said.
Caretakers said they have little hope for Uy Phoan’s recovery.
“The outside of the baby’s eyes has decomposed, but the insides are OK,” Hoeur Sethul said. “I do not know whether she will be blinded or not.”