Legal Definition of Rape May Be Revised

What is rape?

Cambodian law fails to answer that question, according to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. But several current initiatives aim to make the law more comprehensive, Minister Mu Sochua said.

The penal code currently de­fines rape as “penetration of the male organ” without the woman’s consent. It also does not specify at what age a person is considered competent to consent to sex.

The Ministry of Women’s Affairs is one member of a group that meets with the Ministry of Justice every week to draft a reformed penal code. When it is finished, which will probably take at least two years, Mu Sochua wants it to define crimes against women more appropriately.

“In many cases, men do not use the penis to penetrate a wo­man or child, and a judge will not rule that it’s rape if the penetration is not by the male organ,” Mu Sochua said. “But penetration by force without consent can be done with objects or, in the case of a child, fingers.”

In addition, while the current penal code makes sex with children illegal, it does not clearly define “child,” Mu Sochua said.

“It varies from law to law—for the labor law it’s 16, for trafficking it’s 15,” the minister said. In the revised code, she wants to set the age at 18.

A law that prohibits sex with anyone under the age of 18, wheth­er or not the child consents, will “have great implications for the sexual exploitation of women,” Mu Sochua said.

“Often, with commercial [child] sex workers, men feel it’s not their responsibility—she’s sell­ing herself, so it’s not their crime. We want to close those loopholes in the law by making it clear.”

Several other offenses against wo­men will become crimes for the first time upon the passage of Cambodia’s first draft law against domestic violence, which Mu Sochua predicts will occur in Jan­uary. The draft law would make it illegal for a man to rape his wife or to coerce a servant into sex.

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