Chhenda, Living in the Shadows

Chhenda was married in 1996 and had 3 children with her husband. In 2004, he fell in love with another woman, with whom he moved to France - leaving Chhenda and the children behind in Cambodia. Chhenda was attacked with acid in 2008 while on a motorbike with her young daughter. She believes her husband's girlfriend instigated the attack. Both Chhenda and her daughter suffered severe burns to the face, neck, shoulders, chest and arms. Unfortunately, the damage to Chhenda's eyes was so severe that she became blind. 

In Cambodia, 332 acid burn incidents have been recorded since 1964, resulting in a total of 415 victims, 44% of whom are female, 41% are male and 15% are children under the age of 13. In November 2011, the Council of Ministers approved the Law on the Management of Strong Acid, which was officially enacted in January 2012. Since then, acid attacks have been steadily decreasing in Cambodia, with only 3 acid attacks and 6 survivors recorded in 2013 by the Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity, a local NGO working with survivors of acid violence. But while the number of attacks may be decreasing, justice for the survivors has remained elusive. Of the 53 legal cases that CASC has undertaken, in only 11 cases has a verdict been reached, which includes only 2 verdicts so far under the Acid Law.

CASC coordinated for Chhenda to receive a cornea transplant in April but the operation was unfortunately unsuccessful, due to the severe damage the acid had done to her eye. 

Thanks to Erin Bourgois, Project Manager for the Cambodian Acid Survivor Charity, CASC, for the assistance for the realisation of this reportage in August 2013.

Photography: ©Omar Havana. All Rights Reserved