Cambodia’s first domestic violence law is an inspiration to activists, parliamentarians, police and others from throughout the Mekong region who are convening in Phnom Penh this week to discuss how to fashion such legislation in their own countries.
Cambodian officials are finalizing a law that makes it illegal for a husband to rape his wife, allows victims to seek a protective order and authorizes local authorities to take a husband out of a home.
If the law passes the National Assembly as expected in February, it will be the first such law in the Mekong region, said Mu Sochua, minister of Women’s and Veterans Affairs. “We’re hosting this conference [along with NGOs] so that when we go to debate, the MPs are proud that we have this new legislation and can share this experience with others in the region,” she said.
Participants from different countries had different perceptions. While Thai activists quizzed Cambodian parliamentarians about how to push through such legislation in the face of resistance, Laos Women’s Union Vice President Khem Phetpholsena remarked that her government had “consistently paid special attention to the rights of women” and that violence against women was “not considered a problem” in Laos.
Hanoi researcher Le Thi Quy acknowledged that Vietnam had no shelters for battered women, but suggested such shelters should not be the first priority. She suggested the country needed “men’s education centers” to teach men not to mistreat their wives.
Those remarks prompted Dagmar Oberlies, a German law professor, to suggest shelters were a necessity. “If there is no safe place for women to go, they will stay in the violent situation, especially because of the children,” she said.
The three-day conference takes place against a backdrop of continued domestic violence here.
Keo Sareth, 35, of Russei Keo district, was arrested Saturday after he rushed at his wife with a saw, police said. The victim sued Keo Sareth last month for allegedly raping his niece.
(Additional reporting by Saing Soenthrith)