Lawmakers on Friday voted 87 to 2 to strengthen the criminal penalty for rape after hearing arguments from Princess Norodom Vachara and several other female parliamentarians that the crime leaves its victims feeling helpless and ashamed.
The Cambodian court system until now has sent convicted rapists to prison for five to 15 years, depending on the severity of the crime and the vulnerability of the victim.
The sentences are dictated under Title IV of the Untac code that was adopted by the UN during the world body’s administration of Cambodia a decade ago.
The new law will replace the Untac sentence with a stronger penalty of 10 to 20 years.
“It is a serious crime which we cannot forgive,” the princess said.
Friday’s assembly vote wraps up a week of sweeping changes to the penal code, with lawmakers approving harsher sentences and expanding policing powers to some civil servants.
Before the National Assembly took their vote, the female lawmakers argued that rapists should be sentenced to life in prison, if necessary, to stop them from committing the crime again.
The new law says anyone who rapes or attempts rape on a person of either sex will be sentenced to 10 to 15 years in prison. The penalty climbs to 15 to 20 years if the crime is committed with violence or threats, or on a pregnant woman, a physically or mentally ill person, a disabled person or a minor.
The law was written to include a broad definition of the instrument of rape, including not just the male organ but “any other means” of penetration, including fingers and foreign objects.
Lawmaker Ly Kim Leang voiced support for the stronger penalty, saying the imposition of a serious penalty for rape would make it less likely that a convicted rapist would become a repeat offender.
Lawmaker Kim Chamroeun also voiced support for the stiffer penalties, saying some rapists were freed from prison after serving only a few months.
Monh Saphan, a Funcinpec parliamentarian, said the prison sentence of up to 30 years suggested by the princess was too strong, and defended the article’s prison sentence of up to 20 years.
“It is not a killing of people,” he said. “It is only rape.”
One of the parliamentarians also asked for the imposition of fines against convicted rapists, but for now no financial penalties will be imposed.
The National Assembly is scheduled to begin debating laws on kidnapping and the illegal confinement of individuals on Monday.