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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Law to protect women moves forward

Law to protect women moves forward

Law to protect women moves forward

Two years after being rejected by parliament for fear it might undermine Khmer tradition

and cause a "social revolution", the National Assembly committee in charge

of reviewing the draft law on domestic violence has received a new version from the

Council of Ministers.

Changes to the draft law include the removal of articles already covered by criminal

law and the striking of specific punishment for offenders, said Ing Kantha Phavi,

Minister of Women's Affairs.

The NA's permanent committee on public health, social work, labor and women's affairs

received the draft law May 17 and has been discussing it since, even though the Assembly

is not in session

"To make the new draft law more effective ... our commission has to discuss

again and again," said Ho Naun, chairwoman of the committee.

The NA is expected to reconvene in August, but no timetable has been set for when

it will discuss the new draft law.

According to the Institute of Statistics under the Ministry of Planning, one in four

women say they are victims of domestic violence.

Social norms tend to see this abuse as a purely domestic matter, and moves to strengthen

the laws protecting women and children have attracted significant controversy.

In May 2003, after much heated debate, the National Assembly rejected the previous

version, saying its language presented too radical a shift in community values. Two

senior parliamentarians accused the Ministry of Women's Affairs of trying to incite

a "social revolution".

Vong Kann, a member of the NA commission that worked on the previous version, said

that most MPs disagreed with the 2003 draft "because it was too different from

our tradition."

"For example, if the law requires parents who argue with each other to get a

divorce, [I] enquire, who would look after the children?" asked Kann. "[Cambodia]

is different from other countries where children can survive by getting support and

care from the government."

Oung Chanthol, director of Cambodian Women Crisis Center (CWCC), believes that the

predominantly male parliament rejected the draft because its punishments for domestic

violence were considered too firm and threatened the status quo. She chastised members

for taking cover behind the guise of "tradition".

"I don't understand why some National Assembly members said in the [2003] session

that the domestic violence law created social revolution," she said. "I

think the National Assembly members who gave the speech do not understand Khmer tradition."

Kantha Phavi said that the Ministry of Women's Affairs was just trying to do its

job.

"Before, the National Assembly members alleged that we intended to do social

revolution," said Kantha Phavi, who was a secretary of state at the time. "In

fact, [we] do not want to do that, but society requires leaders to help to solve

issues that are happening."

She said the previous draft also suffered from unfortunate timing - it was discussed

just before the 2003 national elections - and a lack of understanding among MPs.

Chanthol said that both folk wisdom and Buddhism teach that domestic violence is

wrong. Traditional Khmer advice - such as the Chbab Pros, or Rules for Men, written

by poet Krom Ngoy - tells men to not hit family members, gamble, drink wine or have

sex outside of marriage, she said, and the Buddhist religion reinforces these moral

guidelines.

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