A women’s rights group called on the government to take stronger action against domestic violence yesterday, saying that numerous cases were being swept under the carpet through mediation and pay-offs.
Pung Chhiv Kek, director of women’s rights group NGO CEDAW and president of rights group Licadho, said Cambodia had adequate legislation to protect women and children from violence, but that most cases were solved outside the law at the local level due to traditional mindsets and a fear of reporting cases to the authorities.
“We have to use the legal system to help women,” she said at a forum yesterday in Phnom Penh.
“We should not solve cases outside of the legal system by offering . . . money so the court drops its investigation and does not punish the suspect.
The suspect committed a crime once and will do so again.”
One major obstacle remains a lack of trust in local authorities to efficiently prosecute cases.
So Sreyleak, the victim of an abusive 10-year relationship with her ex-husband, said police did not punish her ex after she reported his violent assaults.
It was only after she sought help from an NGO that the man was successfully prosecuted, she said. Nevertheless, she encouraged women to speak out about the issue.
“In the past, I often felt scared and embarrassed about my situation, but if we keep feeling like that, we will only live to serve the comfort [of men],” she said.
“So please, I urge women to think clearly about how bad the violence is and whether they can really endure it until death.”
Chou Bun Eng, secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior, said authorities only mediated disputes if they did not reach the criminal level.
“Sometimes when we mediate, the situation gets better, but if violence is involved that leads to physical damage of property or injuries, it has to be sent to court, because it is a crime,” she said.
The government launched the Second National Action Plan on the Prevention of Violence Against Women this February, aiming to curtail domestic violence in a country where it estimates that more than a quarter of women experience sexual or physical violence.
The plan aims to strengthen authorities’ enforcement power, such as by hiring more female police officers to make women more comfortable reporting abuse.