Officials: Children Are Vulnerable to Rape

Cambodian children remain at risk of becoming victims of rape and assault despite the government’s stepped-up efforts at curbing attacks on juveniles, officials said Sunday.

Mu Sochua, Minister of Wo­men’s Affairs, said sexual predators are still preying on Cam­bodian children because once-strong ethics in Cambodia are deteriorating, the court system remains ineffective, and more than 90 percent of rapists never appear before a judge.

Children between 11 and 14 have a 30 percent chance of becoming victims of sexual assault or rape, according to figures from the human rights NGO Adhoc in its annual report re­leased last week.

Poverty is a contributing factor to the growing number of rape cases, said Thun Saray, director of Adhoc.

Many of the victims are forced from rural provinces to Phnom Penh to find work, he said. And many times when these young girls arrive in the city, they are easily taken advantage of. In other cases, young girls travel to far-flung provinces to find work in the rice paddies with hopes of sending money back to their families.

According to Adhoc, about 55 percent of the underage female victims are living away from their families for one reason or another.

“I acknowledge that the majority of rape victims are living in poverty and don’t have the ability to complain,” Mu Sochua said. “There are many rape cases in which the victim never complains to the authorities because Cam­bodian custom teaches women not to speak out about something bad.”

And for the ones that do complain to authorities, she said, it’s the sad truth that they become outcasts. “The victims are discriminated against. Nobody wants to marry them because they’ve lost their virginity,” Mu Sochua said.

According to statistics presented earlier this year at the Ministry of Interior, rape cases jumped by 27 percent to 279 reported in­stances in 2002 compared to 218 in 2001. About 44 percent of all rapes occur at the offender’s home, according to Adhoc .

Mu Sochua said that being a victim of rape is not like a car accident. “You can’t solve it by compensation from the offenders. [Rape] Victims could face pregnancy, disease and life alone.”

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