Rights workers petition Ministry of Health to make post-rape medical examinations affordable for rural Cambodians.
This 14-year-old girl managed to obtain a medical report, despite her mother's objections, after being raped by her stepfather.
RIGHTS groups officials in Pursat province plan to lobby the Ministry of Health in the coming weeks for a reduction of treatment and diagnosis fees for women who claim to have been raped - fees they say are prohibitively expensive for many of the province's poorer residents.
Eng Chhun Han, Pursat provincial coordinator for the rights group Licadho, told the Post on Monday that alleged rape victims are routinely asked to pay between 50,000 riels (about US$12.20) and 80,000 riels for 30-minute appointments at the province's referral hospitals, at which they receive treatment as well as a medical report assessing whether a rape had in fact occurred. This report, both he and other officials said, is a necessary piece of evidence for taking legal action against alleged perpetrators.
Nget Theavy, provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, said Tuesday that fees at the referral hospital in Pursat's Sampov Meas district had climbed as high as 100,000 riels in January.
"We had protested with the hospital director, and then they agreed to decrease the fee from 100,000 riels to 70,000 riels, and more recently to 50,000 riels," she said, adding that she believed this amount was still too high.
Eng Chhun Han said the two groups had requested a meeting to discuss the issue with Pursat Health Department Director Khlem Sokun earlier this month, only to be told that he was too busy to meet with them.
Khlem Sokun told the Post Monday that he had no way of influencing the fees that individual hospitals charge, adding that the involvement of his office in rape cases was minimal.
"So even though Licadho and Adhoc want to come meet with me, I cannot help them," he said.
Nget Theavy said she planned to travel to Phnom Penh Wednesday to meet with Adhoc officials there and devise a plan for lobbying Ministry of Health officials in the capital.
"We will ask the government to help with the diagnosis fee because it should be offered free of charge," she said.
Man Sotheara, a physician for Licadho who used to work in Pursat, said hospital visits for rape should cost no more than 40,000 riels, though he said overcharging occurred throughout the Kingdom. In Phnom Penh, where he works now, the fees are typically more than 70,000 riels, he said.
Ky Kien Hong, director of the referral hospital in Sampov Meas district, told the Post on Tuesday that the hospital charged only 30,000 riels for such visits. He said the staff had a policy of not charging poor women who claim to have been victims of rape.
"In reality, it is not true," he said when asked about the allegations of overcharging levelled by rights group officials. "We do not charge money from the poor. The [NGO officers] complain about this because they are not happy. Every time they come in, they want us to produce a report and diagnosis immediately, but we have plenty of work to do, not just their cases.
Because of the high fees, Nget Theavy said, many alleged rape victims in Pursat are unable to afford a hospital visit. So far this year, she said, 15 rape cases had been referred to Adhoc's Pursat office, 10 of which involved underage girls. The office paid for hospital visits in seven of the 15 cases.
Against the odds
One of those was the case of of a 14-year-old girl who said in an interview Monday that she was raped by her stepfather two times on a fishing boat on Tonle Sap Lake in January. When they returned to their home in Pursat's Bakan district, her stepfather denied raping her, and her mother instructed her not to take her case to the village chief.
"I was very angry with my mother when she didn't allow me to complain," she said."
When she defied her mother's wishes and went to the village chief, she was referred to Adhoc's provincial office, which paid 50,000 riels for a visit to the Sampov Meas hospital. Though her stepfather has fled their home and his whereabouts remain unknown, the girl was able to obtain a medical record from the hospital stating that she had been raped.
Eng Chhun Han said referral hospitals in Pursat have been overcharging alleged rape victims for hospital visits since he began working in Pursat in 2003. He decided to bring the problem to Ministry of Health officials just recently, he said, because a fundraising shortage had put a strain on his office's ability to pay the fees for women who could not afford them.
"Before, we had funds for this, but this year we don't have the funds," he said. "So we feel it is very difficult to meet the need in this province."