Amending the laws on domestic violence

Progress toward amendment:

On 24 October 2005 Cambodia took a major step toward fighting domestic violence when the king signed the Law on the Prevention of Domestic Violence and the Protection of Victims (DV Law).  However, after 13 years, the limitations of the law have become apparent. The law is rarely implemented fully, and many people including police and local authorities do not understand the law well.  Moreover, even with full implementation, the law has gaps which do not extend coverage to many survivors of violence.  NGO-CEDAW commends the Royal Government of Cambodia for adopting plans to strengthen the laws affecting survivors of household and family violence and to ensure that these laws comply with CEDAW and other international standards, as the Cambodian constitution requires.

4 May 2017 Consultation Workshop on the DV Law Amendment

Specific gaps in implementation or protection:

Many terms of the DV Law, such as the option of issuing protective documents both with and without a court case, are unused because they are not mandatory.  Moreover, criminal prosecution of those who commit domestic violence is rare, both because of confusion over which laws apply, and the common assumption that domestic violence is not a crime unless the victim is permanently injured or killed. Additionally, officials fail to distinguish between civil claims for money compensation and criminal cases to punish abusers for committing an offense against society. An employer who beats a domestic worker then pays her money will not be put in jail, since the case was “settled.”  A man who beats his wife will not be jailed because authorities assume that the wife needs money earned by her husband more than she needs physical security or mental health.

NGO-CEDAW advocates the amendment of the DV Law and the Criminal Code to clearly require action by the authorities every time that a report of violence is made, whether that violence is physical, sexual, mental or financial.  All Cambodians should report any incident of abuse to the authorities because abuse begins with small acts, then grows worse, resulting in many deaths.  Letting abusers get away without punishment teaches children that abuse is normal and acceptable.  It is time to break this cycle.

Currently, local officials often give spoken warnings to abusers or ask them to sign a voluntary pledge not to be violent again.  The law should require them to make a written report every time.  Moreover, an administrative decision (issued without a court case) should be issued every time a woman fears future violence.

Protective decisions or orders are a useful tool to protect the victim of violence from further abuse.  The order can include requirements that the abuser stay away from the victim’s house or work while still paying for the support of family members.  Violators can be immediately arrested.  Orders can be temporary or longer in length.   This is the most effective and cost efficient way to protect women and girls from domestic violence.

NGO-CEDAW recommends strengthening the law on protective court orders by lengthening the time for which both temporary and longer term orders can be in effect.  The current law only allows a temporary order for up to two months and a longer order for up to six months.  Moreover, the length of this order is only referred to in connection to a person awaiting criminal charges or criminal trial. A woman whose partner has threatened to murder her with a weapon deserves a longer term of protection, regardless of the existence or status of a criminal case.

Next, many judges and prosecutors in domestic violence cases currently only apply Criminal Code Article 222, which outlaws violence against a spouse or partner, claiming that other articles which call for longer sentences do not apply because they don’t specifically mention spouses and partners.  Both the criminal code and the DV law need to be revised to clarify that the fact that a victim is a relative is an aggravating factor, not a separate crime, allowing for longer, not shorter, jail sentences for abusers.

Specifically, the criminal law does not clearly state that rape, physical violence, and mental abuse against a spouse are all crimes.  Also, the law on domestic violence was written using the same language as certain articles of the criminal law.  Torture and cruel acts, for example, are a crime under the criminal code, but are not defined.  The same words for “torture and cruel acts” is in the DV Law’s definition of emotional and economic violence.  The DV Law and the Criminal Code both need to be revised to clarify that all crimes are still crimes even if the victim is a relative.

Additionally, the current law limits who is protected and what kind of activity should be prevented. Members of the same household as the abuser are protected, as are spouses.  However, partners who do not live together are not covered by the DV Law.  Stalking is not covered by the DV Law. Abuse by former spouses is not covered; many Cambodians consider divorce a solution to violence although the reality is that many abusers continue to be violent afterwards.  Indeed, the point at which a victim leaves the abuser is often the most dangerous time, because the abuser may escalate the violence because they feel that they have nothing to lose at this point.

Finally, even the best law will not protect women until every local police officer and authority learns about the law, understands the law, and fully uses the law.  NGO-CEDAW urges the government to provide mandatory training to every authority at both the local and national levels.