Bangkok (AFP) - One in seven women have been physically or sexually abused by their partners in Laos, according to a rare survey Thursday in the rural, poor country where medical and legal support is scant.
The report, commissioned by the Laos government and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), follows nearly 3,000 interviews with women across the country and is the first-ever survey of its kind in the opaque Communist nation.
"For the first time, Laos has national prevalence data on violence against women, which forms a critical starting point for effective policy implementation," said Anna-Karin Jatfors, deputy regional director for UN Women in Asia-Pacific.
It found that only five percent of victims turn to police for help, and even fewer seek out medical treatment in a country with minimal infrastructure and a rudimentary healthcare system.
The majority of women abused by their partners have faced violence on multiple occasions, according to the report.
The UN urged the Laos government to work with men to "challenge and transform damaging attitudes from an early age that eventually perpetuate violence against women".
Laos is tightly-controlled by its Communist leaders, who have stripped the population of political rights, barred a free press and restricted the range of NGOs and advocacy groups.
Its resource-rich economy has shot up from a low base in recent years following a flood of foreign investment, but the gains have not been evenly distributed.
Poverty remains rampant and the majority of its 6.8 million people work in agriculture.