Ly Aiy Ling’s husband used to educate her with the butt of his gun and the heel of his boot, hitting and kicking her head and body until he felt she had learned her lesson.
Though he had another wife and other exploits, Ly Aiy Ling’s husband insisted he had the right to have sex with her without a condom—or so he told her while beating her so severely that she could not walk.
If the National Assembly passes a domestic violence draft law as it is currently written, abusers like Ly Aiy Ling’s husband may be able to continue administering such “lessons” without fear of legal repercussions.
One of several draft laws waiting to be ratified by the National Assembly, the domestic violence draft law was amended shortly before last year’s election to include several clauses that have human rights organizations warning it will be impossible to implement.
“Most of the [perpetrators of] domestic violence will hide behind this provision,” said Kek Galabru, president of human rights NGO Licadho.
According to the law: “It shall not be included [in the definition of] domestic violence, all teaching through giving advice or reminding or taking appropriate measures to allow the spouses or children or dependent persons to follow a good way in accordance with the Cambodian way of living and customs.”
In other words, Kek Galabru said, “If we can prove the domestic violence happened because of education, then it is not domestic violence.”
The article was added shortly before the election last year, Kek Galabru said.
The law was initially drawn up during the first government mandate, Kek Galabru said. Former minister of Women’s Affairs Mu Sochua took on the law as one of her central causes when she was appointed to the office during the second mandate.
The law eventually was stamped by the Council of Ministers. But in May 2003, parliamentarians added six clauses—including the “education” clause—which stalled the law with much debate.
“To be late in adopting the domestic violence draft law is also a cause of increased domestic violence,” said Chanthol Uong, executive director of the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center. She was, however, adamant that the law should be re-examined.
CWCC and Adhoc have both reported that a larger percentage of their cases involve some kind of domestic violence. In 2003, nine out of 10 people who sought service at CWCC did so because of domestic violence, said Chanthol Uong and Lim Mony, chief of Adhoc’s women’s section.
When it comes to domestic rape, the draft law covers only “violent rape” and stipulates that victims should be removed from their living situations. Chanthol Uong said she believes that all rape, including instances of coercion, should be covered under the law and that perpetrators should be the ones removed from the scene.
But others are not as worried about the education clause. Without such a clause, parents would struggle to discipline their children within the law, said Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project.
“Spouses” are included in the wording to keep the law in line with the Untac criminal and penal code—established in 1992 and currently followed in Cambodia—which stipulates that men, women and children should all be treated equally.
“Our Untac law means all are equal. No exception,” he said. “It’s not just wives, children also are punished.”
Men Sam An was a CPP parliamentarian during the last mandate. She said she never heard about the added articles; although, she remembers the draft law.
“I cannot comment in detail because now I…am no longer a parliamentarian,” said Men Sam An, who is now Minister of National Assembly and Senate Relations and Inspection.
Former domestic violence victim Ly Aiy Ling, who has separated from her husband and works as a hair stylist, was more forthcoming.
“Wives would be seriously beaten if the article was adopted,” she said. “It would encourage husbands to commit more domestic violence and excuse it with ‘education.’”