Cambodia: Domestic violence, including state protection and support services (2010-June 2013) [KHM104459.E]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa

1. Overview

Sources describe domestic violence in Cambodia as "widespread" (Phnom Penh Post 4 Dec. 2012; UNDP and VBNK 2010, 1), "common" (US 19 Apr. 2013, 20-21; Freedom House 2013) and an "acute problem" (UN 20 June 2011, No. 49).

According to the President of LICADHO--Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, an NGO that monitors human rights through a wide range of programs, including a division for human rights violations against women and children (LICADHO n.d.), at least 25 percent of women in Cambodia have experienced domestic violence (Phnom Penh Post 9 Mar.2012). Similarly, Gender and Development for Cambodia (GADC), a local NGO that promotes gender equality through advocacy, training, and community outreach (GADC n.d.), indicated that 20 percent of married women in Cambodia have experienced domestic violence at the hands of their husbands (Phnom Penh Post 30 Nov.2012). ADHOC--Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association, an NGO that advocates for human rights, including women's and children's rights (ADHOC n.d.b), reports that in 2012, according to their own investigations and monitoring, there were at least 1,089 cases of domestic violence against women and children (ADHOC n.d.a). According to ADHOC, domestic violence killings in 2012 included "brutal" cases in which bodies were cut to pieces and acid was thrown on victims (ibid.).

According to a joint report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and VBNK, a Cambodian training and consultancy organization that provides services in the field of social development (VBNK n.d.), domestic violence in Cambodia is linked to poverty and lack of education, and is particularly high in the countryside where literacy rates are low (UNDP and VBNK 2010, 2). Sources also link domestic violence to alcohol abuse (Freedom House 2013; GADC 2010, 41; ADHOC n.d.a), drug abuse (Freedom House 2013; ADHOC n.d.a), gambling, and stress linked to landlessness (ibid.).

1.1 Societal Attitudes

According to Cambodia's Women's Affairs Minister, domestic violence stems "from societal attitudes that men [are] stronger and more valuable than women" (Phnom Penh Post 4 Dec. 2012). Similarly, in a qualitative study on gender norms, masculinity and domestic violence in Cambodia, GADC explains that violence against women

is rooted in masculinity or structural male dominance and unequal gender relations. In Cambodian society men are expected to provide money for the family and to demonstrate their strength (which may include disciplining the family). Women are expected to remain quiet and deferential, managing the household and not refusing sex with their husband. (GADC 2010, 38)

A 2010 academic study about domestic violence in Cambodia, which was authored by four academics at Texas Tech University and published in the Journal of Family Violence, describes Cambodia as a "highly patriarchal society" in which women "are not encouraged to engage in discussion or voice opinions" (Eng et al.2010, 239, 243). The study notes that Cambodia's educational curriculum for junior high school students includes "Rules for Girls" (chhab srey ), which include "talking softly, walking softly without making noise, sitting appropriately with her legs to the side, no screaming or yelling, and obeying and pleasing her husband" (ibid., 239). Within this context, the study notes that society is tolerant of men controlling and beating their wives (Eng et al.2010, 243). The GADC study, which interviewed both urban and rural men and women, reveals that while many respondents said that violence against women is "sometimes acceptable," others said that violence is "unacceptable" and that they were taught to avoid it (GADC 2010, 28).

Instead of being viewed as a crime, sources indicate that domestic violence is often viewed as a "private" (GADC 2010, 32; Cambodian NGO-CEDAW and CAMBOW Mar.2011, 59) or "domestic" issue (Phnom Penh Post 14 Mar.2013). Cambodian women often keep silent about domestic violence (Phnom Penh Post 14 Mar.2013; UNDP and VBNK 2010, 1). According to GADC, revealing information about conflicts and violence within the home is viewed as shameful (GADC 2010, 33). UNDP and VBNK state:

Traditional beliefs about the subservient role and status of women and social stigmatisation of those women who take legal action against their husbands contribute to a culture of impunity that allows perpetrators to believe they have the 'right' to abuse. (2010, 1)

1.2 Sexual Violence

According to the GADC survey, both men and women believed "that men had the control and power over sexual behaviour within marriage" and "[w]omen said that denying their husband sex would result in assumptions or accusations of infidelity and/or physical violence or forced intercourse" (2010, 12). In a telephone interview with the Research Directorate, a professor of Comparative and International Education at Lehigh University, who has researched and published articles about domestic violence in Cambodia, said that marital rape "is accepted as normal" in Cambodia (28 June 2013).

2. State Protection
2.1 Legislation

Sources indicate that in 2005, Cambodia passed the Law on Prevention of Domestic Violence and Protection of Victims (Cambodia May 2010b, No. 33; UN 20 June 2011, No. 49; Phnom Penh Post 14 Mar.2013). According to the US Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2012, the domestic violence law criminalizes domestic violence, but does not specify penalties; domestic violence crimes can be punished based on the provisions of the penal code, with prison terms ranging from one to fifteen years (US 19 Apr. 2013, 21). Further details on the domestic violence law could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

According to the Cambodian authorities' report on the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in Cambodia, measures to implement the law on domestic violence have included training sessions given to commune councillors, police officers, military personnel, court clerks, judges, prosecutors, local civil servants, teachers and students throughout the country (Cambodia May 2010b, No. 47 and 224).

However, several sources indicate that there is limited implementation of the domestic violence law (Phnom Penh Post 31 Aug. 2012; ADHOC 1 Mar.2012; Cambodian NGO-CEDAW 1 Feb. 2013, No. 5). GADC states that there is "a disconnect between policy and implementation" and a need for increased knowledge of the law (GADC 2010, 47-49). UNDP and VBNK similarly note that there is "a lack of education and awareness of legal rights" about domestic violence (UNDP and VBNK 2010, 1). In a joint shadow report about the implementation of CEDAW in Cambodia, Cambodian NGO-CEDAW, a coalition of 72 local and international NGOs that promote gender equality in Cambodia (Cambodian NGO-CEDAW 1 Feb. 2013), and the Cambodian Committee for Women (CAMBOW) state that the law is unknown to the majority of women in Cambodia because of the high rates of female illiteracy and limited information available about the law (Mar.2011, 60).

According to the head of monitoring at ADHOC, as reported in Phnom Penh Post, the laws to protect women from violence are not enforced (Phnom Penh Post 8 Sept. 2011). Country Reports 2012 indicates that NGOs similarly describes enforcement of the domestic violence law as "weak" (US 19 Apr. 2013, 21). According to ADHOC's 2011 Situation Report on women's and children's rights, "even though the legal mechanisms are in place, impunity for crimes against women is still high" (1 Mar.2012). The National Council for Women similarly indicates that, despite the adoption of laws to protect women, the implementation and enforcement of the laws are "still problematic" (Cambodia May 2010a).

2.2 Government

The Ministry of Women's Affairs (MoWA) and the Cambodian National Council of Women (CNCW) are the national governmental bodies that promote gender equality in Cambodia (UN n.d.).

The Lehigh University professor said that the government, in conjunction with NGOs, runs campaigns to raise awareness of domestic violence, which have included airing television shows and advertisements, and running programs in schools (28 June 2013).

2.3 Police

Sources describe Cambodia's law enforcement as "weak" (UNDP and VBNK 2010, 1) or "not effective" (GADC 2010, 44; Professor 28 June 2013). The UNDP and VBNK state that among the police "there is an overall indifference towards domestic violence because they consider it a private or domestic matter" (2010, 2). The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) similarly notes that domestic violence is "widely tolerated" by law enforcement officials in Cambodia (UN 20 June 2011, No. 49). In addition, Country Reports 2012 states that authorities avoid taking action in domestic conflicts (US 19 Apr. 2013, 21).

The Lehigh University Professor stated that the police view most cases of domestic violence as "not serious" and as "a family matter" (Professor 28 June 2013). He noted that sometimes the police do not check on reports of domestic violence, which he attributed as partially due to transportation costs and partially due to their attitudes towards domestic violence, low salaries and low moral (ibid.). However, he also said that the police would refer "very serious cases, such as those involving blood" to the court (ibid.).

Country Reports 2012 indicates that during that year, the Criminal Police Department of the Ministry of the Interior investigated 871 cases of violence against women and children, including 237 rape or attempted rape cases, resulting in the arrest of 1,151 perpetrators (US 19 Apr. 2013, 21). The same source explains that the number of incidents was "likely" underreported "due to ineffective enforcement, inadequate crime statistics reporting, and the fact that women were afraid to make complaints against perpetrators" (ibid.). GADC's survey also found that few people informed the police about incidents of domestic violence (GADC 2010, 45). According to the President of LICADHO, more than 80 percent of domestic violence cases go unreported for reasons such as "tradition, shame and fear of public reaction" (Phnom Penh Post 9 Mar.2012).

According to Phnom Penh Post, domestic violence perpetrators are "rarely punished" because of the local authorities' tendency to avoid the legal system (Phnom Penh Post 12 Mar.2012). Phnom Penh Post reports of a case in which a man was charged with domestic violence for pouring boiling water on his wife in retaliation for not having his dinner ready, but also notes that the authorities initially wanted to settle this case outside of court through "negotiation" and "educat[ion]" (ibid.). The same source cites a report by ADHOC, which states that of 532 cases of domestic violence recorded by their group in 2011, 67 cases resulted in an arrest (ibid.). Country Reports 2012 states that charges brought against abusers for spouse rape were "rare" during that year (US 13 Apr. 2013, 21).

Sources indicate that the police sometimes take bribes from perpetrators of domestic violence (UNDP and VBNK 2010, 2; GADC 2010, 46). In the GADC survey, there was an example in which the police were bribed by the parents of an abusive husband to have him released (GADC 2010, 46). According to UNDP and VBNK, Cambodian law enforcement officials often accept bribes from perpetrators of domestic violence, which "seem[s] to reinforce a culture of impunity and tacit acceptance that emboldens unlawful settlements" (UNDP and VBNK 2010, 2).

2.4 Judiciary

GADC describes Cambodia as having "weak rule of law," but "strong traditions of informal dispute resolution outside of the court system" (GADC 2010, 44-45). According to their survey, some women have turned to village chiefs to help resolve domestic violence (ibid., 46). However, GADC notes that this has produced "mixed results" and few prosecutions (ibid.). According to Phnom Penh Post, 80 percent of civil cases among poor people are settled outside the formal legal process and there are 31 alternative justice centres in the provinces and capital, where cases are settled before a local commune chief or governor (Phnom Penh Post 21 Sept. 2012). The article indicates that cases of domestic violence are among the cases resolved through this alternative dispute resolution process (ibid.). The UNDP and VBNK note that even in "serious" cases of domestic abuse, women often accept community arbitration instead of pursuing legal justice (UNDP and VBNK 2010, 1). According to the Cambodian NGO-CEDAW"[l]ocal reconciliation processes often discriminate against women with pressure applied inappropriately to continue living with a violent partner" (1 Feb. 2013).

According to the joint report by Cambodian NGO-CEDAW and CAMBOW, there is not a sufficient number of qualified lawyers and sensitive judges in Cambodia to support victims of domestic violence (Mar.2011, 60). According to UNDP and VBNK, women who take legal action in cases of domestic violence "often face discriminatory judicial and legal systems that sympathize with men and too often emphasize reconciliation as the answer" (2010, 2). The same source indicates that most Cambodian women cannot afford the legal costs to bring a case of domestic violence forward to court or to obtain a medical certificate to prove the physical abuse (UNDP and VBNK 2010, 1). Cambodian NGO-CEDAW similarly states that there are "significant financial costs" involved in bringing forward domestic violence court cases, which acts as a barrier to women accessing justice (1 Feb. 2013, No. 5).

3. Support Services

According to the head of monitoring at ADHOC, victims of domestic violence do not trust state institutions and "find it difficult to seek public services" (Phnom Penh Post 8 Sept. 2011). The joint report by Cambodian NGO-CEDAW and CAMBOW states that Cambodia lacks necessary infrastructure to support victims of domestic violence, such as shelters and a system to provide psychological support (Mar.2011, 60). Other sources also note a lack of social service facilities in Cambodia to assist women fleeing from violence (GADC 2010, 44-45, 49; CWCC n.d.b).

The Minister of Women's Affairs, as reported by Phnom Penh Post, stated that Cambodia needs to improve services to victims of gender-based violence (Phnom Penh Post 15 Sept. 2011). She noted that there are "a lot" of services but that they are located in different places and are poorly organized (ibid.). She recommended that they be consolidated into "one-stop service centres" (ibid.).

3.1 Shelters

The Cambodia Women's Crisis Center, a women's organization that advocates for the elimination of violence against women (CWCC n.d.a, 2), offers three shelters for women and children who are victims of gender-based violence, which are located in Phnom Penh, Banteay Meanchey and Siem Reap (ibid., 19). Shelter services are provided to victims of domestic violence, rape and trafficking (ibid.). CWCC's website notes that the shelter in Phnom Penh can accommodate 40 to 55 people, the one in Banteay Meanchey can accommodate 70 to 100 people, and the one in Siam Reap can accommodate 50 to 60 people (ibid. n.d.b). According to their annual report for 2011, in "complicated or serious" cases of abuse, survivors can stay at the shelters for up to eight months (ibid. n.d.a, 19). In 2011, a total of 448 survivors were accommodated at the three shelters: 136 in Phnom Penh, 217 in Banteay Meanchey and 95 in Siam Reap (ibid.). Of the 448 clients, 253 were victims of domestic violence (ibid.). In addition to accommodation and food, the shelters offer immediate medical care, individual counselling and group counselling (ibid.). The CWCC also offers legal services to victims, as well as vocational training programs (ibid., 17, 20).

The Cambodian Women's Development Agency, a Phnom Penh-based NGO that "aims to empower women through education, organisation and self-development" (CWDA n.d.a), operates a shelter for young women who are victims or at risk of trafficking and domestic violence (ibid. n.d.b). In addition to safe accommodations, the shelter reportedly provides food, clothes, counselling, rehabilitation, legal advocacy, formal education and vocational training (ibid.).

The Professor at Lehigh University said that in addition to the shelters operated by CWCC, there is an NGO-operated shelter in Ckam Pong Thom (28 June 2013). He was not aware of any government-operated shelters and said that NGOs--particularly CWCC--play an important role in providing services to victims of domestic violence (Professor 28 June 2013). According to the Professor, "[o]nly the very serious cases get referred to shelters, such as cases of physical violence that are bloody or result in the hospitalization of the victim" (ibid.). He noted that there were not enough shelters or shelter spaces to refer all cases of domestic violence, and that the location of the shelters were a barrier to people from other areas of Cambodia, since they would need to travel a great distance to access the shelters (ibid.).

Further information about government-operated shelters for victims of domestic violence, or shelters operated by other NGOs, could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

3.2 Hotlines

According to the Professor, CWCC operates a 24-hour hotline for victims of domestic violence in Phnom Penh and in one province (28 June 2013). Further information about this hotline, or others, could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


ADHOC--Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association. 1 March 2012. "ADHOC Press Conference to Launch Situation Report on Violations of Women and Children's Rights." <> [Accessed 14 June 2013]

_____. N.d.a. "Report: Issues of Women's Rights, Child Rights and Migrant Workers' Rights in Cambodia." <> [Accessed 14 June 2013]

_____. N.d.b. "About ADHOC." <> [Accessed 2 July 2013]

Cambodia. May 2010a. Cambodian National Council for Women. A Five-Year Strategic Plan 2010-2014. <> [Accessed 27 June 2013]

_____. May 2010b. Fourth and Fifth National Report on Implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in Cambodia. <> [Accessed 27 June 2013]

Cambodia Women's Crisis Center (CWCC). N.d.a. Annual Report 2011. <> [Accessed 13 June 2013]

_____. N.d.b. "Safe Shelter." <> [Accessed 13 June 2013]

Cambodian NGO-CEDAW Committee. 1 February 2013. Submission to Pre-Session Working Group on CEDAW. < bodies/cedaw/docs/ngos/CambodianNGO_CEDAW.pdf> [Accessed 27 June 2013]

Cambodian NGO-CEDAW Committee and Cambodian Committee for Women (CAMBOW). March 2011. Implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in Cambodia, 2010. < english/bodies/cedaw/docs/ngos/ JointNGOSubmission_Cambodia56.pdf> [Accessed 27 June 2013]

Cambodian Women's Development Agency (CWDA). N.d.a. "About Us." <> [Accessed 2 July 2013]

_____. N.d.b. "Women's Shelter." <> [Accessed 2 July 2013]

Eng, Sothy, Yingli Li, Miriam Mulsow and Judith Fischer. 2010. "Domestic Violence Against Women in Cambodia: Husband's Control, Frequency of Spousal Discussion, and Domestic Violence Reported by Cambodian Women." Journal of Family Violence. Vol. 25.

Freedom House. 2013. "Cambodia." Freedom in the World. <> [Accessed 14 June 2013]

Gender and Development for Cambodia (GADC). 2010. Deoum Troung Pram Hath in Modern Cambodia. A Qualitative Exploration of Gender Norms, Masculinity and Domestic Violence. <> [Accessed 24 June 2013]

_____. N.d. "Who Is GADC." <> [Accessed 2 July 2013]

LICADHO--Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights. N.d. "About Us." <> [Accessed 2 July 2013]

Phnom Penh Post. 14 March 2013. Sen David. "Internet Tool in Combating Domestic Abuse, NGOs Say." (Factiva)

_____. 4 December 2012. Mom Kunthear. "Cambodian Students Targeted to Stop Domestic Violence." (Factiva)

_____. 30 November 2012. Sen David. "Battered Wife Swims to Safety from Abuse." (Factiva)

_____. 21 September 2012. Chhay Channyda and Claire Knox. "Alternative Dispute Resolution No Place for Criminal Defence." (Factiva)

_____. 31 August 2012. Princess Soma Norodom. "Let's Stop the Abuses." (Factiva)

_____. 12 March 2012. Sen David and Kristin Lynch. "Man 'Pours Boiling Water on Wife'." (Factiva)

_____. 9 March 2012. Bridget Di Certo, Phak Seangly, Cassandra Yeap and Khouth Sophak Chakrya. "Women Take to the Streets." (Factiva)

_____. 15 September 2011. Mom Kunthear and Kristin Lynch. "Data Shows Decline in Domestic Violence." (Factiva)

_____. 8 September 2011. Kristin Lynch. "Domestic Abuse in Focus." (Factiva)

Professor of Comparative and International Education, Lehigh University. 28 June 2013. Telephone interview by the Research Directorate.

United Nations (UN). 20 June 2011. Committee on the Rights of the Child. Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 44 of the Convention. (CRC/C/KHM/CO/2) < crc/docs/co/CRC.C.KHM.CO.2.doc> [Accessed 14 June 2013]

_____. N.d. UN Women Asia and the Pacific. "Cambodia." <> [Accessed 27 June 2013]

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and VBNK. 2010. Talking About Domestic Violence. A Handbook for Village Facilitators. < media/files/Talking_About_Domestic_Violence-Eng.pdf> [Accessed 26 June 2013]

United States (US). 19 April 2013. "Cambodia." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2012. <> [Accessed 25 June 2013]

VBNK. N.d. "What We Do: Overview." <> [Accessed 9 July 2013]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: Attempts to contact representatives of the following organizations were unsuccessful: LICADHO – Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, Cambodia Women's Crisis Center.

Internet sites, including: Amnesty International; Asian Human Rights Commission; Cambodia – Ministry of Women's Affairs;; Factiva; FIDH; Hot Peach Pages International; Human Rights Watch; International Women's Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific; LICADHO; UN – IRIN, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Refworld, UN Development Programme, UN Women, World Health Organization;