Acid attacks: Cambodia victims 'denied government aid'

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image captionMost acid victims in Cambodia are women, but a growing number of men are affected too

Survivors of acid attacks in Cambodia are being denied free government treatment that they are legally entitled to, Human Rights Watch says.

Its report focused on 17 survivors, none of whom are said to have received government aid for their injuries.

In 2012, legislation was passed in Cambodia to toughen punishments for acid attack perpetrators and provide more support for victims.

The government insists treatment for victims is being provided for free.

"We would like to deny the accusation," health ministry spokesman Ly Sovann told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "We have the law, and we provide the service for free."

But HRW said the tougher rules and victim aid were not being put into action.

Waves of attacks

Acid attacks are particularly common in South East Asia and the majority of crimes are against women.

The common perception in Cambodia is that acid attacks are a result of "love triangle" relationships, and female victims are often deemed in some way responsible for their attack.

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image captionAcid attacks have a severe impact on families

Sun Sokney, one of the victims interviewed in the report, was attacked by her husband in a busy market. Thinking she was his mistress, the crowd cheered her husband as he ran away, only coming to her aid when Sun Sokney convinced them she was actually his wife.

In 1999, aged 16, Tat Marina was doused in acid. She says she was having an affair with a government official, whose wife found out and hired attackers to beat her unconscious before dousing her with nitric acid. The alleged organiser of the attack was never held accountable and investigations were dropped.

Since that high-profile attack, acid attacks have occurred in waves as "copycat" cases take hold.

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image captionThe psychological repercussions of an acid attack are severe

Since legislation was introduced in 2012 to tackle the crime, attacks have fallen in number, although the report says many are unreported and acid is readily available to buy.

Funding for the Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity, which offered provisions for survivors, has since been cut completely and HRW argues the government is not filling the gap.

One of the victims interviewed in the report said living as an acid victim was "what hell feels like".

"Acid violence is rarely directly fatal. Rather, victims live on in physical, emotional, economic, and social suffering," the HRW report says.

Doctors interviewed were not aware that acid attack survivors, who suffer devastating injuries, should be treated free of charge. Every victim spoken to in the report needed to show proof that they could pay for medical care before receiving treatment.

It also said victims were unlikely to get justice as perpetrators were rarely caught or imprisoned.

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