Youen Souen a 25 year-old Cambodian man wanted his wife to give him $25 to attend the local theatre. She refused, they argued, he slapped her, and later when he was asleep she retaliated by pouring acid over his face. He’s now scarred for life.
Sem Chanthy, a 27 year-old woman used to work in a Karaoke bar. On Wednesday two men entered her house and poured a litre of acid over her face and chest. She, too, is scarred for life.
Youen Souen and Sem Chanthy were just two of six victims of acid attacks in Cambodia in the month of January. There were 33 such attacks in 2008 and although there was a dramatic decrease of acid assaults is 2009- there were 12- December ’09 and January ’10 figures seem to show an upsurge. And that's just the official figures, surely there are many more, afterall there is an organisation that works solely with acid-attack victims.
Acid in the face, often thrown from a moving motorcycle, is a favoured method of revenge for spurned lovers or for businessmen who feel that they have been duped. It doesn’t cost much for a couple of hoodlums to carry out an acid hit; labour is cheap and a litre of acid costs just a dollar.
Behind the big Khmer smile it is often easy to see underlying tensions in Cambodian society. Tensions are present in any society, that’s true, but acid-in-the-face is a particularly evil and deliberate crime and it’s a fair reflection of the deep sadness, anger, frustration and, for some, the overwhelming sense of a right to power, that many Cambodians have.
A country riddled with corruption and poverty, a police force unwilling, or incapable of solving some crimes, without adequate mental health doctors and facilities, and with unresolved issues and pain still remaining from the Khmer Rouge era, what's really surprising is that there are not more of these ugly assaults.