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
"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
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
- 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