Laws Clarify Foreign Pedophiles’ Treatment

Since 1996, and until recently, foreign pedophiles apprehended in Cambodia were convicted of “de­bauchery”—a catchall term many found confusing and that carried with it a 10- to 20-year jail sentence comparable to that for murder.

When the new anti-trafficking law was enacted in February, the term “debauchery” was done away with, and in its place were substituted two crimes. Article 42 of the new law punishes “sexual intercourse with minors under 15 years of age” with five to 10 years, and article 43 punishes “indecent acts” with minors under 15—including touching and kissing—with one to three years in prison and a fine of up to $1,500.

Peng Maneth, an attorney at the anti-pedophile NGO Action Pour les Enfants, said Wednesday that the term “debauchery” was too vague and had created a lot of confusion in the courtroom.

“Previously, there were problems during trials. No one described clearly about debauchery,” she said, adding that if you look the word up in the Khmer dictionary, it just means “obscene act.”

Sihanoukville Municipal Court Chief Prosecutor Meas Sopheak said that the first foreigner arrested under the new law, French national David Makhout, was charged with “indecent acts” on April 17 for allegedly abusing an 8-year-old girl, and that the proceedings went much more smoothly according to the new legal framework.

“The law on debauchery was too general. Anything was debauchery,” he said.

Bith Kimhong, Interior Ministry anti-trafficking department chief, said Wednesday that the reduced sentences better suit the crimes committed.

“Now it is less than before, but people are still afraid of 10 years in prison,” he said. “It is matched to the actual crime.”

In 2007, 12 foreigners were arrested—eight on charges of debauchery, another three for human trafficking and one for prostitution, according to Bith Kimhong. Thirteen foreigners were arrested in 2006—11 for debauchery, one for prostitution and one for making pornography, he said.

Prior to the new law, two Russians and one American were arrested for debauchery in 2008, he added.


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