In March, Srey Sros (not her real name) arrived in Phnom Penh from Kandal in
search of her husband. Despite suffering violent abuse at his hands for over
five years, the pregnant Sros needed him to provide for her and their two small
Instead, her husband forced her onto his moto and began driving
her to the nearest bus out of town. When she refused, he detoured down a small
alleyway where he turned violent and pulled out a knife.
When her husband
dropped the knife while beating her, Sros seized the opportunity to escape by
picking it up and plunging it into his shoulder blade. She fainted moments later
and by the time she awoke, her husband was dead and she was facing murder
Hor Phally, Executive Director of Partners Against Domestic
Violence (PADV), says systematic violence and abuse of this kind is common
throughout the Kingdom.
Latest research by the Institute of Statistics
under the Ministry of Planning shows an alarming increase in reported incidences
of domestic violence. According to statistics, one in four Cambodian women
complain of violent husbands, up from one in six documented in a PADV survey.
PADV, the Cambodian Wo-men's Crisis Center and the human rights
organization Licadho routinely encounter cases of not just battered wives, but
also relatives and domestic workers who, even if extricated from abusive
situations have to undergo prolonged spells of trauma in their efforts to just
stay alive and sane.
Under the existing laws, although Sros was entitled
to relief from the police and judiciary during the five long years of violence
she suffered at her husband's hands, the chances are that the police would have
dismissed her complaint against her husband as a purely domestic matter.
Had she approached the court or the commune chief for divorce or other
assistance, the tendency would have been to admonish her for not being a
patient, caring wife, and she would have been urged to reconcile with her
"Our traditions treat [domestic violence] as a family
affair," explained Dr Kek Galabru, President of Licadho. "Sometimes even the
parents of the girl say if your husband beats you, then you must not be a good
While rising figures of reported domestic violence might merely
be an indicator of improved reporting procedures, both Dr Galabru and Phally
describe the violence as yet another bitter legacy of Cambodia's three decades
of civil conflict.
"Such [domestic] violence was not common in the
pre-1970 Cambodian society," Dr Gala-bru said, suggesting that the trend was a
cultural inheritance of the brutality of the Lon Nol and Pol Pot
Phally stresses the urgent need for a comprehensive anti-domestic
violence program that includes legal and social remedies. Such measures, Phally
hopes, will help other women avoid the same fate as Sros through the passage of
adequate domestic violence legislation which will have deterrence value, protect
women's rights and provide for rehabilitation for victims.
precisely what the Ministry of Women's and Veterans' Affairs (MoWVA) is hoping
to achieve by drafting a detailed law on Prevention of Domestic Violence, along
with a strategy for developing education, information and rehabilitation
Under the draft law, which was put up for review and comments
by the legislators, NGOs and judicial authorities on June 19, victims can ask
for a protection order restraining the defendant from contact with the victim.
In addition, the draft law includes a provision for an interim order that
ensures victims' safety and subsistence, thereby avoiding extreme situations
like that endured by Sros.
The draft law is the result of combined
efforts by the ministry, NGOs and UNDP, and encompasses State liability,
punishment, rehabilitation of victims and deterrence through
"This [interim order] is a major step in providing immediate
relief to the victims, particularly since no existing law in Cambodia provides
for such a relief," said MoWVA Minister Mu Sochua. "It would also enable the
intervening authorities to temporarily take the accused away for
More controversially, the draft law empowers police to
intervene and enter a house without a warrant if domestic violence is suspected
and allows third parties like neighbors, NGOs or social workers to press
"Now, they [both the police and the general public] think it is
a private matter and try to keep away. But under the new law, it'll be the
police authorities' responsibility to protect the victims, file complaints on
their behalf and if [domestic violence] leads to a criminal act, ask for an
arrest warrant against the perpetrator," Sochua said.
say that the clause could be abused by the police. During the June 19
discussion, Nop Sophon, Deputy Director of Phnom Penh Municipal Court, warned
that allowing police to enter a premises without warrant on a mere suspicion
that someone has committed or is about to commit an act of violence could be
recipe for disaster.
"...the commune chief can be given the power to
detain the accused for one or two days before deciding if he needs to be handed
over to the police," Sophon suggested as an alternative to the draft law's "no
warrant" provision. However, Kim Sethavy, adviser to Deputy Prime Minister Sar
Kheng, dismissed Sophon's objections, arguing that the accused may not obey the
Mere adoption of the law, all agree, is not the solution.
Crucial issues such as the impact that easier prosecution of abusive
spouses might have on already fragile, subsistence family units and the
willingness of a male-dominated police and judiciary to apply the law when it is
passed are also under consideration.
Sochua says two separate advisory
committees - one for drafting legislation and the other for preparing a strategy
for education, sensitization and support services - have been established to
address these questions.
According to a UNDP official, all those involved
with the drafting process have had to deal with two extreme views on the issue
of dealing with domestic violence.
On one side of the spectrum are those
who, while admitting that the existing laws are inadequate, advocate soft
interventions like mediation, counseling and therapy. On the other are those who
view domestic violence like any other criminal conduct and insist the
perpetrators must not be treated any differently.
"We have tried to
strike a balance between the legal and welfare approaches, while providing for
special remedies keeping in mind the social realities in the Kingdom," Sochua
said. "It's not our intention to encourage the breakup of the family system, but
to preserve it by maintaining peace...[the accused] would be given a chance to
reform... legal remedies would come into play only in extreme cases, where all
other means have failed."
Myrna S Feliciano, Associate Dean at the
College of Law at the University of Phillipines who attended the discussion on
the draft law, says the legislation is a necessity.
"Law also plays a
critical role in shaping and sustaining the social values," she said, adding
that both prevention and rehabilitation strategies went hand-in-hand with the
legislation. "[Otherwise] the children will continue to carry the lesson of
violence into their adulthood, creating a vicious circle."