Children Mistreated in Prison, Report Says

A human rights report has found that children living with their convicted mothers in Cam­bo­dian prisons are frequently abused by other inmates and do not get adequate food or medicine despite international and national laws designed to protect them.

The “Innocent Prisoners” re­port, due out today, is the first study of the children in Cambo­dia who have no choice but to live in a prison as their mother serves a criminal sentence.

The report, written by human rights organization Licadho. found 15 children staying with 13 mothers in seven prisons. Seven more women prisoners were preg­nant.

Some of the women, like a woman named Sokua who was interviewed by Licadho investigators, fear that they will not get enough food for their children.

Other women, such as Bopha, say they worry about what will happen to their children when they turn 6 and have to leave the prison under national law. Bopha told investigators that she was told her son would have to move to an orphanage, where she fears his life would be even more miserable than at the prison.

Another woman told investigators that she only became pregnant after she was raped by a prison guard.

Investigators learned that children are often abused by other prisoners, sometimes for crying or trying to play.

“The potential for maltreatment at the hands of other prisoners or prison staff is ever-present, particularly in facilities where sex offenders or child abusers may be held,” the report read. “These children were often surrounded by a culture of fear and hopelessness. A common theme among the inmates and detainees interviewed was that of vulnerability.”

The report found that the wo­men were serving an average sentence of six years. Six of the children have lived in prison all of their lives.

A prison official said Thursday that the government tries to keep the women and children separate from other prisoners, and usually provides a 1,000 riel per day allowance to both the mother and child for food.

The government is required under national law to care for children who must stay at prison with their mothers until the children are 6 years old. Once a child turns 6, according to Cambo­dian law, he or she must leave the prison.

Cambodia does not have a separate facility for women and their children, though it would be one of several acceptable solutions, the Licadho report said.

“Because there are so few women and so few children it is feasible…to put the women and children together in a separate building,” Licadho Director Naly Pilorge said.

Other possible solutions in­clude sending the women home and ordering them to perform community service in exchange for their prison sentences, or home confinement.

The report was written based on interviews conducted between October 2001 and April 2002.

(Additional reporting by Nhem Chea Bunly)


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