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Hun Sen says change liberal women's law

S ECOND Prime Minister Hun Sen has criticized a liberal draft law on women's

rights which outlaws sexual discrimination, harassment and domestic

violence.

"We must review it," Hun Sen said of the law.

He

disputed that women needed protection from suppression or harassment by men,

saying: "I don't agree that men suppress women. For my mother, my father treated

her carefully and for me, I treat my wife carefully too.

Speaking in

Khmer at a Secretariat of State for Women's Affairs (SSWA) seminar, Hun Sen

indicated he was sick of such conferences.

"I'm sorry, excellency Keat

Sukun," he said to the Secretary of State for Women's Affairs, "I'm not

attending the women's meetings any more.

"[Women are] always demanding

rights, demanding rights, but gain nothing.

"I have attended many women's

activities... I am tired of listening, because I never treated women badly but I

hear that men treat women badly."

Hun Sen advised women to make

achievements for themselves in reality, not just on paper.

He

acknowledged that Cambodia had a small number of women in its parliament and

public institutions, but said that even developed countries like the United

States did not have 50 per women in theirs.

He said Cambodia faced

economic challenges to meet the basic needs of its people, and "if this problem

cannot be solved, don't talk about rights".

The draft law, the Cambodian

Women's Code, was prepared by the SSWA along with a draft National Policy for

Women in Cambodia.

The law entrenches a host of rights for women -

including human, labor, marriage and divorce rights - and includes a section

covering crimes against women.

The criminal section provides for jail

sentences of five to 10 years for rape (including incest and marital rape), five

to 10 years for selling or otherwise trafficking in women for prostitution,

seven to ten for brothel running, and penalties for other offenses.

It

says domestic violence by a husband or his relatives should be dealt with under

the assault, injury, manslaughter or murder provisions of Cambodia's penal

law.

The draft women's law also introduces conditions for women detained

or imprisoned by the authorities, including that their families be notified,

their imprisonment be supervised by female prison officers, and regular medical

care be available for them. Anyone who rapes, molests, sexually harasses or

exploits women in custody should be prosecuted for crimes of torture, it

says.

On women's labor rights, the law says sexual harassment or

exploitation in the workplace should be punishable as crimes.

It also

includes health and safety, and maternity leave, regulations and requires every

workplace with 20 or more female staff to have a "panel of enforcement" on

women's rights.

The law's marriage, divorce and family provisions include

that: joint property cannot be sold without consent of husband and wife; couples

who divorce should split joint property; divorced parents should share the costs

of raising their children; the courts can impose alimony orders on either

parents, and rule on paternity disputes.

Keat Sukun, the Secretary of

State for Women's Affairs, believed the law was positive step. He said it would

be difficult to have women's rights recognized until they were enshrined in

law.

The draft law followed extensive consultation with representatives

of Khmer women's groups and NGO specialists, he said.

Reaction from NGO

staff who attended the seminar on the law was generally positive, though some

expressed concern about some of the jail penalties.

Phoung Sith, director

of the human rights NGO Vigilance generally agreed with the law, but said he

would lobby to have some jail provisions reduced.

Sochua Leiper, of the

Khemara NGO, said precise rape penalties were needed because "if we leave it to

the judge, most of them are men..."

"We are women - maybe nothing will be

fair because they are all men, judges and police."

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