Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Justice for sex crimes elusive

Justice for sex crimes elusive

Justice for sex crimes elusive

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Two Cambodian girls rescued from brothels in Phom Penh by the Cambodian Women's Crisis Centre. Photograph: AFP PHOTO/Rob Elliott

The number of child rape complaints received by rights group Adhoc in the first five months of the year has dropped from 175 last year to 101, but those figures can be misleading, the rights group says.

Speaking to the Post, Chuon Chamrong, head of the organisation’s women’s section, said the numbers reflected the resources the NGO had, not the prevalence of the crime.

“Adhoc complaints this year have focused on migration and human-trafficking abuses,” Chamrong said, but stressed it was important for families of rape victims to take complaints through the legal system.

“We must encourage the victims and families to file a complaint, because this is a criminal case.”

But rampant bribery remains a major barrier to justice for child-rape victims and their families, law enforcement agencies across the Kingdom maintain.

The Ministry of Interior has even gone so far as to order police to write the words “no pay money” across their desks, the deputy director of the Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Department said.

“The defence lawyers from our NGO partners who support the victims provide their services free of charge,” the department’s deputy director, Sok Reaksmey, said. “But it will be too late if victims call NGOs to intervene."

“The criminal might have already escaped, so they need to call directly to the police – and the police must stop taking money from people and refusing to act without payment,” he emphasised.

Anti-human trafficking and exploitation group Sisha said that because of the expense – formal and informal – of filing child-rape complaints through the criminal system, NGO support was “absolutely critical”.

Operations director Eric Meldrum told the Post that, bribes aside, the cost of following through a child-rape complaint could cripple the victim’s family.

“Hospitals charge $15, up to $30, for an examination. Then there are the trips into town, which can be quite far for some of these families. Then waiting because the doctor might not be there on a Saturday or Sunday – it all adds up,” Meldrum said.

The court process was another huge time and cash burden, Meldrum said, pointing to multiple stages in investigations and court appearances that could “bleed you dry”.

“The legal system just doesn’t work for the poor,” he said, adding that Sisha had handled about 26 cases this year.

“Child rape is an opportunistic crime. People know of reports of it happening, and they know they can get away with it. There is this cultural breakdown, with everybody just seeing [perpetrators] get away with it.”

Unicef said this culture of impunity and under-reporting meant reliable data on the prevalence of violence against children, including sexual violence, remained limited.

“Additional research providing comprehensive data on the prevalence of violence against children in Cambodia remains urgent,” Denise Shepherd-Johnson, chief of communications at Unicef, said.

“We are very concerned that violence against children, including child sexual abuse, remains a significant issue,” she said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Bridget Di Certo at [email protected]
Khouth Sophak Chakrya at [email protected]

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