Shelters for Abuse Victims Given New Rules

The government on Tuesday unveiled a new set of minimum standards that shelters for victims of sexual abuse and human trafficking have to meet to ensure they provide an appropriate level of care to the mostly young women in their charge.

Social Affairs Minister Vong Sauth signed off on the proclamation, written to take effect immediately, on May 19. However, it was not made public until Tuesday at a launch event in Phnom Penh.

Among the conditions are that the shelters provide 24-hour security, serve at least three meals a day with “balanced nutrition” and stand on a minimum 2,000 square meters of land. The proclamation also sets minimum staffing numbers based on shelter conditions and services.

Khiev Bory, a secretary of state at the Social Affairs Ministry, said in a speech at Tuesday’s launch that the new rules should improve the quality of service provided to victims.

“I strongly hope these minimum standards will be implemented with transparency, accountability and effectiveness,” he said.

Heng Soheanh, a senior project manager at World Vision Cambodia, one of several organizations that worked with the government on the initiative, said minimum standards were necessary because there had been reports of abuse and poor conditions at some shelters.

But executing and enforcing the rules is likely to prove tricky.

According to the proclamation, shelters will be inspected once a year, or more if necessary, and given three months to make improvements if found to be non-compliant. If a shelter has still not improved after a second inspection, a report will be submitted to the Social Affairs Minister requesting further action, which could be anything from “education” to prosecution.

Helen Sworn, the founder of Chab Dai, a coalition of 58 NGOs that work with victims of sexual abuse and human trafficking, and who also advised on the drafting of the new standards, said she believed the government lacked the resources to ensure that shelters comply.

“[R]eally, it takes the NGO sector to implement this, which has been the situation for the past couple of decades,” she said.

Even so, Ms. Sworn said shelter conditions had improved markedly since the government introduced general standards for the sector in 2009. She estimated there were about 50 centers across the country that fell under the new proclamation’s purview.

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