PHNOM PENH —
A new report has found that a large proportion of women who have been affected by land disputes have suffered severe psychological distress as a result.
The report by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), titled “Cambodia’s Women in Land Conflict”, surveyed more than 600 women and found that 98 percent lived with the trauma of being uprooted from their homes.
Almost half of the 612 women – 46 percent – had considered suicide, while nearly one-fifth had actually attempted suicide.
Other effects included a loss of income as the women were compelled to abandon work to join protests against developers, which in turn led to increased instances of family disputes and domestic violence.
Forty percent of the women had used violence against their children since the dispute, and more than a third had made their children take up labor-intensive work as a result.
Almost all of the women surveyed also reported regular threats, intimidation, detention and violence from the authorities, company security personnel and other staff.
Vann Sophath, CCHR’s land reform project coordinator, said women are often at the forefront of movements against land grabbing, which had led to rises in domestic violence rates, mental illness and child labor.
“The government should take up measures to ensure that there is collaboration with the company and related institutions to focus on the issue. If not, the future of the children who are affected by land disputes would be bleak,” he said.
“And concerning the mental health of the women, the government should think about the matter; particularly there should be a raising of awareness and consultation for mental illness, as well as treatment nationwide.”
Seng Lot, a spokesman for the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, said land disputes were in decline, reduced from about 7,500 in 2003 to only 800 today. “We think there are only 10 percent left that need to be resolved,” he added.
“I don’t know where the report author takes the data from or whether the data are accurate or whether the data are taken from a trusted institution. I cannot draw a conclusion from that. It’s just that the ministry does not see the situation where the disputes can lead to suicide attempts. There is no such thing.”
Ke Sovannaroth, president of parliament’s Women’s Affairs Committee and an opposition MP, said she would work towards a resolution to the issue.
But, ultimately, it was down to the government to make change happen, she said.
“The government is the one who manages the budget and the one who appeals for aid from donor countries... the people should act according the constitution, should have protection, should have jobs. And if they don’t have protection, the government should look at the matter.”