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Cambodia Readies for Disability Law

King Norodom Sihamoni recently approved a historic law for the disabled, which seeks to improve their lives and promote their rights.

The 60-article law, signed July 3, aims to provide annual financial support for people with serious disabilities, including the elderly, while providing training for people who wish to seek jobs.

In Phnom Penh, the law went into effect Friday, while in all other provinces and municipalities it goes into effect July 22.

The law calls for jail sentences up to five years and fines up to 10 million riel, or $2,500, for those who intentionally abandon the disabled or exploit them.

“This is the first disability law to be implemented in Cambodia’s history,” Sem Sokha, secretary of state at the Ministry of Social Affairs, told VOA Khmer. “I believe it is a very important law for promoting the lives of disabled people and protecting them.”

Three decades of war have given Cambodia more than half a million people with disabilities, creating a large disadvantaged group that faces discrimination in employment, health and education.

This year’s law is the result of heavy lobbying by non-governmental groups since 1996.

“It’s great to have the law signed,” said 45-year-old Yous Pisey, who lost both legs to a landmine 21 years ago and had lived in a Phnom Penh pagoda and sewn scarves until the global financial crisis put her out of work.

“I hope that from now on the government will take a good care of us and search for people with disabilities, like me, to promote our livings by providing an actual career,” she said in a recent interview.

Not everyone is optimistic.

“I don’t think a law can help all people with disabilities,” said one woman who was nine months pregnant with one disabled leg. “I don’t believe this is so.”

Whether or not it helps everyone, the law will help promote the lives of some through education, training and job centers, said Lash Urike, coordinator for Handicap International France.

Ngin Saorath, executive director of Cambodia’s Organization, said his group plans to monitor the implementation of the law closely to ensure people with disabilities benefit from it.