The Ministry of Social Affairs yesterday said a draft law on juvenile crime nearly five years in the making is expected to be sent to the Council of Ministers next month.
Kong Chhan, deputy director of technical affairs at the ministry, said a draft was sent in October, only to be returned for edits.
“[W]e are trying to find the way to put [young people] in the community rather than in prison,” he said.
“The law takes a long time, since we want to make it good by complying with international conventions and the penal code,” he added.
Intended to address what legal experts say are holes in the penal and civil codes, the law will outline sentencing for minors, codify alternative options to prison sentences and create a system of juvenile detention facilities.
Ny Sovathara, unit head of the access to justice program at the Community Legal Education Center, which has been involved in training officials in juvenile rights, urged swifter action on the law.
“We also think this law has taken a long time…. It’s an important law that we provide justice for juveniles. If we study the conditions of prisoners, many juveniles are in pretrial detention and in prison.”
According to figures from rights group Licadho, there are currently 673 minors in 18 prisons around the country.
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the free legal aid Cambodian Defender’s Project, said he suspects the slowdown in providing a separate system for juveniles is due to a lack of resources.
“One is funding, the other is human resources. If there is no real system in place, how can people be trained?”
But, he cautioned, without a separate juvenile system, serious problems are bound to arise.
“They put the minors in jail, but they do not care about their future…. If Cambodia has no real strategy to help the minors to be rehabilitated, they will become outcast people and more likely to become criminals.”