Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Kandal village emblem of Kingdom's domestic abuse problem



Kandal village emblem of Kingdom's domestic abuse problem

Cyclists wait in front of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs yesterday morning in Meanchey district to take part in an International Women’s Day event.
Cyclists wait in front of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs yesterday morning in Meanchey district to take part in an International Women’s Day event. Hong Menea

Kandal village emblem of Kingdom's domestic abuse problem

As the government issued a familiar package of platitudes and promises on International Women’s Day, a walk through a single rural village in Kandal offered a shocking glimpse into how widespread – and widely accepted – domestic abuse remains in the Kingdom.

Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday denounced violence against women, placing the blame on a cocktail of dwindling social morality, a lack of education, materialistic over-enthusiasm and an abuse of social media.

But for countless women living within the grip of domestic violence, the causes are a heady mix of alcoholism, victim-blaming and a pervasive view that their partner has a right to beat them.

Sopheap* is just one Kandal woman imprisoned in a relationship marked by domestic violence – her husband, often drunk, frequently beats her with a wooden club he keeps by a makeshift stove in their remote home.

She lifted her shirt yesterday, pointing to her shoulders and back to show where the blows had fallen. She does the same for her 5-year-old child, showing etchings of white scars.

“He is very cruel and brutal . . . If I reported it to the police, he would kill me,” she said. “This is my mistake – I cannot make enough food for him, and I do not have the money to buy the food.”

“He used a knife to threaten to kill me . . . sometimes I run and hide in the forest, where I fall asleep, crying.”

For fellow Kandal woman Leakna*, 41, the wounds are still raw. Her husband, who she said was a police officer, viciously beat her before fleeing their village in late February.

Leakna said her husband did not drink, but beat her because he accused her of having an affair, which she denied.

She presents photo evidence of the violence – black eyes, her wrists and elbows blooming red and black, a purple bruise on her thigh where he kicked her.

“I endured the suffering, because he is my husband. But this time I cannot endure any more. Maybe next time I would not survive.”

Leakna said her husband had also strangled their 10-year-old daughter, who then quit school because she felt threatened.

“I never went to the police, I just filed for divorce. What the law will do with him, I don’t know,” she said.

“It is the right thing for a husband to beat his wife when the woman does not do their work, but it is wrong in this case, because I did not have an affair.”

Her family members, gathered around her, said the villagers were incensed and wanted to file a complaint on her behalf, but they feel they could not because it was “a family issue”.

Sopheap* sits in the shade of her house yesterday morning in Kandal Province as she recounted her experience with domestic violence.
Sopheap* sits in the shade of her house yesterday morning in Kandal Province as she recounted her experience with domestic violence. Mech Dara

Sreymech*, also from Kandal, said her husband of more than 20 years, a former soldier, had recently become a churchgoer and had halted his outbursts of physical violence – for the past six years, he has resorted to “curses and insults”.

“I filed a complaint to the police, but he was a soldier. The police were his friends, so they didn’t arrest him,” Sreymech said as she breastfed her baby. “I filed a complaint to the village chief – nothing happened.”

“We [my family] are lucky there is only domestic violence between wife and husband, and there is no raping of children.”

The stories of these women are not unique. According to the recent National Survey on Women’s Health and Life Experiences in Cambodia, one in five women between 15 and 64 has experienced physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner.

Almost half of the women surveyed believed husbands were justified in beating their wives.

The view that the woman’s culpability for the violence she suffers is not only held by the victims themselves, but by men in positions of power that are tasked with resolving domestic disputes.

Tacho village chief Hong Moeun, in Kandal’s Lvea Em district, said if women come to ask for a divorce, they will attempt to mediate and reach a compromise two or three times, before sending the issue to an upper level.

“Most of the time, they reach a deal,” Moeun said.

“Sometimes we have to close our eyes.

“The violence is not only from men, but also from women causing the problem.”

Khsach Kandal district police chief Men Sokoeun said the domestic violence complaints they receive are not resolved at the district level, but referred upwards for provincial authorities to make a decision whether or not to send a perpetrator to court.

Ros Sopheap, from Gender and Development in Cambodia, said gender-based violence violence was “happening every day” and said victims felt it was “impossible” to report their case.

“When women look at the court system or the justice system, it is with mistrust. It’s like the justice system is broken,” she said.

She called on more government funding for the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, which she said relies heavily on donor support to run programs.

“This is not a sustainable strategy . . . If the government has a policy, but if they do not put the money there, it means nothing. It means they don’t care and they can’t end violence against women,” she said.

The Ministry of Women’s Affairs was given $9 million in the government’s budget last year, compared to $502 million for education, $382 million for defence and $34 million for the National Assembly.

The Chhunhak, deputy director-general of Gender Equality and Economic Development at the ministry, said it was combating domestic violence by promoting public awareness, providing technical support to victims through the judicial police agency, and undergoing consultations to develop a second National Action Plan to Prevent Violence Against Women through consultations.

“Cambodia is internationally recognised as one of the most outstanding countries for addressing domestic violence as a cutting issue and one that needs work through a multi-sector approach,” he said in an email.

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the victims.

MOST VIEWED

  • Phnom Penh placed in two-week lockdown

    The government has decided to place Phnom Penh in lockdown for two weeks, effective April 14 midnight through April 28, as Cambodia continues to grapple with the ongoing community outbreak of Covid-19, which has seen no sign of subsiding. According to a directive signed by Prime Minister

  • Cambodia on the verge of national tragedy, WHO warns

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia warned that the country had reached another critical point amid a sudden, huge surge in community transmission cases and deaths. “We stand on the brink of a national tragedy because of Covid-19. Despite our best efforts, we are

  • Vaccination open to foreigners in Cambodia

    The Ministry of Health on April 8 issued an announcement on Covid-19 vaccination for foreigners residing and working in Cambodia, directing the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and local authorities to register them. Health minister Mam Bun Heng, who is also head of the inter-ministerial

  • Culture ministry: Take Tuol Sleng photos down, or else

    The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts has told Irish photographer Matt Loughrey to take down the photos of Khmer Rouge victims at Tuol Sleng Genocidal Museum which he allegedly colourised and altered to show them smiling. The ministry said Loughrey's work is unacceptable, affecting

  • Cambodia gears up for muted New Year festival

    The recent curfew and restrictions imposed in the capital and other Covid-19 hotspots were intended to break the chain of transmission, Ministry of Health spokeswoman Or Vandine said as municipal and provincial authorities issued new directives banning certain activities during the upcoming Khmer New Year

  • Covid-19 vaccination now obligatory

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on April 11 issued a sub-decree making Covid-19 vaccination compulsory for individuals unless they have a medical certificate proving they have pre-existing health conditions that prevent them from doing so. «This applies to all members of the armed forces and civil servants