The 11-year-old girl accused of killing her 4-year-old neighbor over a pair of earrings in Kompong Speu province over the weekend went into hiding with her mother Tuesday after provincial authorities failed to secure a safe location for the girl to be rehabilitated.
The girl was arrested on Saturday in Samraong Tong district’s Ralaing Kroeul commune after villagers discovered the body of Heak Kimchheng face down in the water near a small dam. When questioned by police, the 11-year-old admitted to killing her neighbor in order to steal her earrings and sell them to buy a mobile phone.
The Kompong Speu Provincial Court on Monday charged the girl —who cannot be formally prosecuted because she is under the age of 14—with premeditated murder and Tuesday held a meeting to determine where she should be sent for supervision and counseling.
“We decided to hand the girl over to the [provincial] social affairs department,” said Judge Chhim Ritthy, who led the meeting, which was also attended by the girl, her mother and staff from the social affairs department.
“[Department staff] promised to find a partner organization to look after her,” he said, adding that the girl was drug-tested following the murder and came up positive for methamphetamine.
However, Sam Sak, chief of the provincial police’s serious crimes bureau, said his officers stood outside the court with the girl and her mother until 6 p.m. while they waited for the department to track down an NGO that would pick up the girl and take her into its care.
“My officers told me that the girl got on a motorbike with the mother after waiting for an NGO to come and pick up the girl,” Mr. Sak said. “Nobody came to pick her up.”
“We are not sure whether they went back home or somewhere else.”
Judge Ritthy explained that he had instructed the girl’s mother to seek shelter at a relative’s house, rather than return to her own home in Ralaing Kroeul, which would not be safe for the girl.
“We don’t know where they’ve gone,” he said. “It is their private matter. You have to understand, if you publish about this [their location], the family of the victim is going to find them and take revenge.”
Luy Lom, director of the provincial social affairs department, said his department only looks after “vulnerable children,” who are sent to the Kompong Speu Provincial Orphanage.
“I don’t know how to help with this case,” he said. “We have never had a case like this before. We help only vulnerable children; we have never helped perpetrators.”
Mr. Lom said he would continue to search for a private organization to care for the child today, adding that he would also consider placing her in a government-run facility if ordered to do so by the Social Affairs Ministry.
Denise Shepherd-Johnson, chief of communications for the U.N. Children’s Fund (Unicef) in Cambodia, said it was crucial that the country continue to improve its facilities for treating juvenile offenders.
“[I]t is necessary to increase the quality of legal, social and psychological assistance for children in the juvenile justice system by informing the public and training specialists,” Ms. Shepherd-Johnson said.
She added that the Social Affairs Ministry and the Justice Ministry must develop clear protocols for following up on offenders under the age of 14.
Ngat Chhoeun, the father of the 11-year-old girl, said that he and his wife work all day and regularly leave their daughter home alone with their 4-year-old son.
“I never thought she used drugs, but I had noticed she looked different for the past three or four months,” he said.
“I want her to go to a center to be educated. I do not want her to come home because I will not be at home and I am afraid she will commit murder again and I do not trust her anymore.”
(Additional reporting by Alex Consiglio)