Jakarta. Existing justice systems in six countries within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean, reflect a pervasive culture of impunity when it comes to sexual violence against young girls and show that governments do not give nearly adequate attention on the issue, a research report launched on Tuesday (10/10) finds.
"In the six Asean countries we studied, we found no specific law which regulates against sexual violence comprehensively. This is when we desperately need a piece of law that legislates against all forms of sexual violence," Rena Herdiyani, local women's organization Kalyanamitra's deputy program director, said.
Kalyanamitra is one of six Asean organizations involved in the research in 2016 as part of the Weaving Women’s Voices in Asean (Weave) network. The results have been published as a report entitled Coming out of the Dark: Pursuing Access to Justice for Girl Children in Cases of Sexual Violence in Asean.
Rena said the reason why there is hardly any law that legislates against sexual violence is because the countries inherit and preserve criminal and penal laws, and domestic violence laws, that do not carry a specific provision on the issue.
In Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand, the research found pervasive culture of impunity in cases of sexual violence against young girls.
"Impunity is manifested in how the legal system and society as a whole allow perpetrators to remain unpunished, and authorities unaccountable for their inefficiency and incompetence," the research said.
According to the study, governments also showed a distinct lack of interest in "both the issue of sexual violence and the plight and interests" of young girls. The study also finds that young girls from marginalized communities – such as those with disabilities – are more susceptible to discrimination as well as continued violence.
"[We] find that in Asean, the issue of sexual violence against young girls is simply not a priority," Rena said.
Traditional stereotypes are often a hindrance in bringing perpetrators to justice in the Asean countries observed during the study. They include victim-blaming, a definition of rape that necessitates penetration, an over-emphasis on girls' virginity and the practice of marrying victims to their abusers.
"One of the challenges we observe was that existing laws prioritize physical evidence for cases of sexual violence against young girls, which are often difficult to prove and often incriminate the victims," Rena said.
Justice systems in Asean countries also remain adult-centric, with children often left out from voicing their own opinion in the decision-making process and enforcement largely ineffective.
Rena said it is paramount that sexual violence against young girls and children be tackled with the child victims' best interests in mind.
"The prevalence of sexual violence against girls is also linked to unequal gender-based power relations enmeshed in society," Rena said.
Promises of Asean Community
Asean is continuing to advocate for stronger and deeper regional integration to fulfill its members’ economic ambitions and potentials.
The year 2017 marks the regional bloc’s 50th anniversary, but after half a century Asean has yet to truly manifest its vision of an integrated, mutually-beneficial community and still falls short on its promises to be a "socially responsible community."
The organization already has the Asean Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC), strategically positioned to improve legislation on sexual violence against girls with its mandate to "develop policies, programs and strategies to promote and protect the rights of women and children to complement the building of the Asean Community."
In 2013, Asean also launched a regional plan of action (RPA) on the elimination of violence against children, including comprehensive plans for prevention, support services, capacity building, research and data collection.
However, the implementation of the plan remains to be seen at the national level.
"ACWC should urge all governments in Asean to implement the RPA at a national level," Rena said.