Two Phnom Penh men were found guilty of attempted rape of two girls aged five and nine, in a verdict that the minister of Women’s Affairs called a sign of progress in the court system.
Municipal Judge Nop Sophon sentenced Ieng Ran, 25, a motorbike dealer, to five years in prison. Ban Sokhieng, a 16-year-old student, was given 2 1/2 years because he is a juvenile. The judge also ordered the two men to pay a total of $1,500 to the family.
“The court has made its ruling, and I accept it,” said the girls’ mother, whose identity is being withheld for privacy’s sake.
The mother testified the girls had been raped at least eight times from March to October of last year at the house of Ban Sokhieng, who lived nearby. “I want justice for my children,” she said, breaking into tears.
The defendants denied the charges. Their lawyer argued that the girls’ testimony seemed premeditated, and that actual attempted rape would have caused more serious physical damage to the children.
A doctor examining the children in November found the children had lost their virginity, but did not find bruises. His finding suggested that the children had only been penetrated by the mens’ fingers, which would have made the men liable only for indecent assault charges. But the children testified the men also used their penises.
The chubby-cheeked youngsters slurped down a bag of sugar cane juice as they awaited the trial. They wore braided pigtails, matching blue and pink jumpers, and sandals with drawings of squirrels on them. They calmly described the assaults and identified their assailants, their tiny voices nearly swallowed up by the stark courtroom.
Mu Sochua, the minister of Women’s Affairs, said she was “very happy” with the verdict. She praised the prosecutor and judge for taking the childrens’ testimony seriously. Courts have frequently dismissed children’s testimony in the past, she said.
But, she said, Cambodia desperately needed counseling services, both for the victims, to lessen their trauma, and for the culprits to prevent them from raping again.
The ministry will propose new legislation that would find any kind of penetration grounds for rape. Rape of a minor carries a sentence of 10 to 15 years, while indecent assault carries a sentence of only two to five years.
The case faced repeated delays, Mu Sochua said. A court date set for earlier this month was postponed for one day because police said they did not have the money to transport the suspects from Prey Sar prison, located about 35 km outside Phnom Penh. The next day the case was delayed due to an unrelated demonstration in front of the courthouse.
The human rights group Adhoc agreed to pay for the prisoners’ transport, Mu Sochua said.