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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Domestic violence attitudes changing

Domestic violence attitudes changing


Afew months after the birth of their third child, Men Savich came home to greet her

husband. After a tough day at work he unleashed his anger by beating Savich until

she lost consciousness. As she awoke, her husband was standing above her, kicking

her repeatedly. She heard her mother-in-law tell her husband that if he didn't stop

he would kill her. Somehow, Savich summoned the strength to stand and run, but her

husband pursued her. She was beaten so severely that it would be five years before

she regained her hearing.

A new report on violence against women found that children abandoned or abused due to domestic problems rarely have a chance to continue education and development. Now, NGOs such as the Our Home Organization have opened schools, lke this, to help them.

For 12 years Savich and their four daughters lived with such regular abuse. She was

given very little money to provide for the family, but if the food she cooked was

not to her husband's liking he would become violent. Eventually her husband allowed

her to leave, but with no possessions. After a long struggle Savich found a good

job and was able to send her daughters to school for the first time.

In October 2005, a law against domestic violence was passed in Cambodia obliging

authorities to take action if domestic violence is suspected. Authorities now have

the right to enter a home without a warrant to intervene, and in extreme cases, arrest

the perpetrator.

"If this law had been in place sooner I could have left my husband before things

became so serious," Savich said. "I would have been able to keep some of

our assets after the divorce."

Hou Phally, director of the NGO Protectors Against Domestic Violence (PADV), told

the Post that the law has changed attitudes and given women more confidence to speak

out. By empowering authorities to intervene, the government has recognized that domestic

violence is no longer a private matter. Rights workers claim this attitude is being

slowly accepted by society.

"When we go to the grassroots level, more people understand the issues now,"

Phally said. "Previously discussing these matters was a cultural taboo. A good

woman was not supposed to talk about such things."

According to Phally, women are now becoming more aware of their rights, particularly

the younger generation. Of the couples she works with, the majority are between 35

and 55. She believes that among the younger generation, attitudes are changing.

But despite applauding the government recognition of this issue by passing this law,

women's rights groups still have concerns about its effectiveness.

"The law imposes an obligation upon the 'authorities in charge' to take action

in cases of domestic violence," said Kek Galabru, president of human rights

group Licadho. "However, because the law doesn't provide a clear definition

of who these 'authorities in charge' are, in practice, nobody takes on the responsibility

of enforcing the law."

Lawyer Lam Sokuntheara who has been working on cases of violence against women for

the past two years admits that there are problems. She gave the example of the provision

of a protection order - known commonly as a restraining order - outlined in Article

25 of the new law. To her knowledge the court has never ruled in favor of the victim

in a protection order case. According to Sokuntheara, the problem is lack of law

promotion and lack of agreement between the Ministry of Women's Affairs and the Ministry

of Interior on the issuing and implementation of the law.

Chou Buneng, director-general of social development at the Ministry of Women's Affairs,

denied any disagreement, stating that it takes time for new ideas to become widely

accepted and the real results to become apparent.

"We are very happy the law we drafted was adopted," she said. "It

may not be perfect, but we now have a basis to work from."

But despite the setbacks, Sokuntheara has still found the law to be invaluable in

assisting the women she represents.

"Previously the local authorities didn't pay attention to domestic violence

because it was not viewed as an illegal act," she said. "With the new laws

it is made clear that it is a legal matter."

She explained that previously in cases of domestic violence, as in the case of Savich,

the victim was forced to leave the family home to seek help and shelter. The property

would then be left under the control of the perpetrator, so the victim, to escape

violence, would lose everything. The new law states that the perpetrator is to be

removed from the premises by authorities and property protection laws now mean the

victim is no longer left out in the cold.

Oung Chanthol, director of the Cambodian Women's Crisis Center (CWCC), also believes

the introduction of the law has yielded many positive results. She cited that CWCC's

annual reports for the last two years indicate that domestic violence is decreasing.

"Some women's rights have improved, but others are moving backward," Chanthol

said. "The laws against violence against women are positive steps. There is

now a legal mechanism to help women. But it's still not at the level we'd like to

see. "

The CWCC reported that of the 151 women they worked with last year, 128 submitted

complaints against their abusive husbands. But only six pressed criminal charges:

the rest filed for divorce only.

"Still, through advocacy, things are changing," she said. "Before,

a daughter would complain to her family about spousal abuse and they'd do nothing.

They'd say it's 'your problem,'" she said. "But now we're seeing fathers

and brothers accompany the victim. These male relatives are taking on the role of

protecting family members."

The CWCC, which operates centers in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Banteay Meanchey, provides

food, shelter and counseling for women and children affected by abuse. The NGO Our

Home Organization, funded by Spanish organization Global Humanitaria, operates four

centers to assist the child victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse or neglect.

According to Our Home officials, the group helped 4,000 children in 2005.

Licadho also confirmed that children are deeply affected by domestic violence. "Consequences

of domestic violence on children include fear, psychological problems, and problems

at school," said Galabru. "Children living in a household affected by domestic

violence are prone to leave home at a young age. This situation makes them very vulnerable.

Young teenagers leaving home might end up in the street where they are easy targets

for street gangs, drug dealers and pedophiles."


Violence against women


Since passing the Law on the Prevention of Domestic Violence and prevention of

victims on October 24, 2005, the government has offered "some recognition"

of the problem of domestic violence, the NGO Licadho stated in its 2006 report. But

it says the law has not been widely enforced and its wording does not specify which

authorities are responsible for action.

  • Cases of domestic violence reported by Licadho in 2006: 220. Percentage increase

    from 2005: 24%. From 2000: 193%

  • Cases of rape reported in 2006: 86. Percentage increase from 2005: 30%. From

    2000: 207%

  • Cases reported in the media 2006: 311. Percentage increase from 2005: 9%
  • Gang rape cases reported in 2006: 10. Percentage increase from 2005: 25%.
  • Human trafficking for sexual exploitation cases reported from 2000 to 2006: 93

- From Licadho report: Violence Against Women in Cambodia 2006




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