Slow action from courts and police, a dire lack of mental health counselling and sparse government funding were named as ongoing challenges in Cambodia’s quest to eliminate violence against women at a conference yesterday.
The ministries of women’s affairs, culture and fine arts, information and education, along with civil society groups, took stock at the meeting, which marked the halfway point in the implementation of the government’s Second National Action Plan to Prevent Violence Against Women and Children (2014-2018).
Ren Samphors, a team leader for a Siem Reap peace shelter run by women’s NGO Banteay Srei, delivered a compelling example of their work in the form of a 6-year-old girl who was raped last year.
He said Banteay Srei, together with Legal Aid Cambodia and the Transcultural Psychosocial Organisation, had supported the victim to “become spiritually stronger”, but the police and courts had been slow to arrest the offender – a 14-year-old minor with a prior offence on his record – and prosecute him.
Minister of Women’s Affairs Ing Kantha Phavi said that while government statistics had not recorded a spike in violent cases, she feared the violence was now more acute. “What we are really concerned about is the form of that violence is even more serious, because more and more people are drinking more alcohol and using drugs,” she said.
Phavi said education and awareness were sorely needed, pointing out that many Cambodian women still believed their husbands were entitled to beat them.
She cited an example in Stung Treng, where a woman appealed to authorities to release her husband by saying he was “just playing a joke”, despite needing multiple stitches after he beat her and split her head open.
But Gender and Development for Cambodia executive director Ros Sopheap yesterday warned against blaming the victim of violence.
“It is time for us to move on and stop blaming victims. If we could help the domestic-violence victims to ensure that their daily life is stable as before, in terms of financial [independence] . . . that would give them a lot of choice and also this would encourage other women to stand [up],” she said.
“Implementation of the law is still not yet transparent; we are not sure whether the police accept or finish the . . . complaints.”
Doung Thavery, chief of anti-human trafficking police in Siem Reap, said police response to domestic violence incidents depended on the severity of the case.
“In a middle-offence case, the district police need to do a compromise with the victim and offender . . . If we found out it was a big problem [such as rape or serious injury], there will be no more compromise – we need to solve that issue through the legal procedure,” she said.
The conference resolved to establish a reporting system for ministries to increase accountability, as well as alter the action plan to adapt to the realities “on the ground”, but Sopheap added the meeting would have been more productive with a stronger police presence and an open discussion.