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Domestic violence law 'needs changes'

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Opposition leader Sam Rainsy led a march of around 1,000 drought-affected farmers to the offices of the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank on August 9. Rainsy called on the country heads of the institutions to pay more heed to the needs of the poor, and to combat corruption.

The Cambodian Women's Crisis Center (CWCC) has criticized aspects of a draft law

to outlaw domestic violence, saying that several clauses in the legislation could

result in the law being "a dangerous step backwards".

The draft was produced last year and submitted to the National Assembly in July,

but a CWCC paper presented at a joint government-NGO conference August 6 warned that

it contained several serious flaws.

"A large proportion of women in Cambodia are victims of some form of domestic

violence, from threats up to rape and murder," it noted. "[But] there are

several things which should be done to the draft law before it is adopted."

Among the necessary corrections called for by the NGO were: that the draft should

provide that the perpetrator, not the victim, be removed from the home; that a clause

appearing to legalize marital rape be rewritten; and that three articles that created

a series of "badly defined" new crimes be deleted.

The NGO did applaud the new law as "an important advance in Cambodian law",

stating it would better prevent violence by instituting protection orders against

abusive spouses that would compel them to stay away from the marital home. Victims

would also benefit as the courts would have more latitude to impose penalties appropriate

to each situation.

Minister of Women's Affairs, Mu Sochua, said she was concerned the drawn-out discussions

could mean the law would not be adopted before the general election in July 2003.

At that point the National Assembly's mandate will expire, which would likely result

in further delays in passing the law.

Sochua, who has campaigned forcefully for years on the subject, said efforts to perfect

the minutiae of the legislation could backfire. She called on the participants to

get a basic law passed first, then concentrate on the details.

"When we go shopping at the market, we want to buy everything, fish, vegetable,

fruits ... [but] we have only one basket and have to put everything in it. I am afraid

the basket will leak," she said by way of analogy.

There was broad agreement at the conference that the legislation was necessary. Surveys

from both government and NGOs repeatedly show that domestic violence affects at least

a quarter of Cambodian women.

Hor Phally, executive director of the Project Against Domestic Violence, said it

could help reverse a rising tide of domestic violence and give women an option other

than turning to NGOs such as hers for help.

"Khmer tradition means that women always keep quiet when their husbands abuse

them, but since [there are a] growing number of NGOs helping women, it's given them

encouragement to speak up," she said.

Other participants said combating domestic violence would require re-educating police,

who are generally reluctant to get involved in what as seen as a family matter. Sok

Sam Oeurn, director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said the police needed training

to properly deal with the issue.

"The police never consider domestic violence as something wrong," he said.

"They don't want to get involved in conflict."

"Sophal", is a 41-year-old farmer from Kandal whose case illustrates the

realities of domestic violence. She is now under the protection of an NGO but told

the Post her husband beat her for years after he took a mistress.

Eventually she complained to the local authorities and the police, but they did not

help. His last act of violence forced her to flee.

"I could not stand being with him any longer," she said. "He poured

gasoline on my body and set me alight. I will divorce him to save my life."

"Though I worked hard I was still wrong," Sophal said. "I cooked

food for him, but he never enjoyed it. He did not tell me the reason, but only used

violence. [Sometimes] when I returned from the rice field, he would beat me."

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