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Beaten wives struggle to call it quits

Beaten wives struggle to call it quits

8-domestic-violence.jpg
8-domestic-violence.jpg

HENG CHIVOAN

Residents of Prasut Balung village in Kampong Thom province attend a workshop on domestic violence hosted by the government-run Seary Rattanak group, on June 5.

For Long De, small arguments with her husband can quickly escalate into a beating over the head with a shoe.

"He likes to show his power over me," said the 45-year-old native of Kampong Cham province's Kampong Siem district.

"I filed a complaint to divorce him in 2001 after he beat me really badly, but the court asked us to reconcile and stay together," she added.

Government and NGO officials have praised a rise in reported cases of domestic violence as proof that gains have been in public awareness of the issue following the passage in 2005 of legislation aimed at preventing abuse and protecting its victims.

Spousal battery cases reported to the Cambodian Women's Crisis Center rose from 827 in 2006 to 1,025 last year, with the organization's secretary general, Nep Sarin Srey Rath, saying that a better public understanding of the law had encouraged more women to lodge complaints.

The explanation was shared by Ny Ly Heng, the monitor of women's affairs for the human rights NGO Adhoc, to which 632 cases of domestic violence were reported last year, up from 531 in 2006.

But others say poor implementation of the law and men's financial hold over their wives keep women like Long De locked in abusive and sometimes lethal relationships. 

"Look at access to the courts - a woman who has been abused and wants to take action has to go to the local police and pay an unofficial fee," said Sam Rainsy Party secretary general Mu Sochua, who as a former women's affairs minister helped draft the domestic abuse law.

"The case is then passed up the levels in a process that can take months if not years," she added, while Adhoc's Ly Heng said filing a complaint was no guarantee of protection from an abusive spouse.

Few perpetrators are ever charged; only 47 of Adhoc's cases lead to prosecutions in 2006 - a figure that rose marginally to 60 last year, Heng said.

"It usually takes a very serious beating, or if the women is killed," he said.

Chou Bunn Eng, director general of the social development department at the Ministry of Women's Affairs, said people were failing to consider domestic violence in the context of social harmony.

"My advice for all women who are abused by their husbands is to resolve the problem peacefully if possible, but if the abuse is serious then separate," she said.

But Kek Galabru, president of the Cambodian rights group Licadho, said fear of the financial consequences of being divorced kept many victims in abusive relationships.

Galabru said that in the few cases that have gone to court, perpetrators have been able to minimize their financial responsibilities.

"There's no system for assessing the husband's income and assets, so he can easily have much more than he declares," she said.

"Women know that in Cambodia there's no way to force the man to pay even if the court says he should." 

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