The nearly 500 minors held in Cambodia’s dirty, overcrowded correctional facilities are subject to excessive pre-trial detention, stiff prison sentences and are often denied access to lawyers and education, three NGOs said Wednesday.
The plight of Cambodia’s jailed children will be the subject of “Children in Prison—No Place To Grow Up,” a four-month campaign jointly run by the rights organization Licadho, Legal Aid of Cambodia and the Danish charity DanChurchAid, the groups announced at a news conference in Phnom Penh.
Kek Galabru, president and founder of Licadho, painted a grisly picture of Cambodia’s houses of detention, where underfed prisoners become listless or tussle out of frustration in hot, overcrowded cells.
These conditions, faced by male, female and child inmates, are described in the findings of two reports released Wednesday: “Securing Children’s Rights in Cambodia,” produced by LAC, and Licadho’s 2005 and 2006 report on Cambodian prisons.
“We are not going to criticize the government over the findings, but we just want the report to be used by the government as a tool to arrive at measures to help these children,” Kek Galabru said.
An 11-year-old boy who declined to be named said at the news conference that he was wrongfully jailed a year ago for robbery.
“I did not steal electric wire but three of my friends did,” he said. “I was detained with adults and minors in a cell with 40 people in Siem Reap province. I was allowed outside for two hours a day.”
In its report, LAC found that in three prisons, more than 45 percent of juveniles, inmates under 18 years of age, claimed in interviews that they were detained past the legal pre-trial detention limit of one to two months.
Heng Hak, the newly-appointed director-general of the Prison Secretariat, said he welcomed the reports but took issue with some of their findings.
“We have a lot of difficulties at the prisons which we need to improve on,” he said.
“Our big concern is children who follow their mothers to live in prison and some pregnant prisoners who give birth in prison. We do not want those kids to live in prison cells with their mothers,” Heng Hek added.
Heng Hak said that he would look into the issues of minors held past the legal limit for pre-trial detention to see if the reports were true.
“I also thank those NGOs for their findings because we can use the reports as a good tool to help prisoners in Cambodia,” he added.
(Additional reporting by Douglas Gillison)