Despite an opposition party walkout on Friday, the National Assembly adopted a long-awaited law to promote the welfare of hundreds of thousands of disabled and maimed Cambodians.
Drafted over the course of more than a decade, the law calls for the government to provide health care and physical rehabilitation to the disabled, requires that public facilities be accessible to them and creates hiring quotas for businesses to employ disabled people.
However, 19 SRP and three HRP lawmakers walked out of the Assembly chamber after a majority of lawmakers voted to ignore 32 draft amendments to the legislation that were proposed by SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua.
The law was adopted with 75 CPP, NRP and Funcinpec votes in favor and none opposed.
“We boycotted the National Assembly’s session, but we are not boycotting the disability law,” Ms Sochua told reporters at a news conference on Friday morning at her party’s headquarters.
“We need to amend it. Then we will have a good law for the benefit of people with disabilities,” she said.
The SRP proposals included adding provisions contained in UN human rights treaties protecting the rights of women, children and people with disabilities and would have penalized acid attacks, as well as providing special protections from violence against women and children with disabilities and giving disabled women access to reproductive health services.
They also would have provided tax exemptions for businesses owned by disabled people.
SRP lawmaker Ho Vann told reporters that the decision to ignore the proposed amendments violated Assembly’s procedures, which require that draft amendments be distributed to each Assembly member in writing before the legislature can decide whether or not to debate them.
“Those lawmakers just raised their hands not to take our suggestions for debate,” he said.
Ms Sochua said she would now send the draft amendments to the Senate and to King Norodom Sihamoni for consideration.
The ruling party’s Assembly President Heng Samrin, Deputy President Nguon Nhel and CPP lawmaker Ho Naun, chair of the Public Health commission, were all unavailable for comment. Fellow commission member An He said he was too busy to talk to a reporter.
According to government statistics, two percent of Cambodia’s 13.4 million people suffer from disabilities, which are defined in the law as loss or damage to any body part causing a functional disability in daily life, including blindness, deafness, mental impairment and mental illness.
However, statistics produced by the National Institute of Statistics, the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank have variously reported that between 4.7 and 15 percent of the population is disabled, according to Ngin Saroath, executive director of the Cambodian Disabled Peoples Organization.
In a statement, CPDO, which has nearly 10,000 members, hailed Friday’s passage of the law, saying it “will ensure that a person with a disability will not be isolated and lonely.”
Mr Saroath acknowledged that the law was less than perfect, but he said it was better to have it than not to have it.
“Now that we have the law on disabilities it would be best if the government conducted a census of people with disabilities,” he said.