Across Cambodia, dozens of innocent children are behind bars with their mothers, where they receive no extra food, shelter or health care and are sometimes beaten or witness violence, according to local rights group Licadho.
Mothers and children must share the 1,500 riel the Cambodian prison system budgets to cover all costs for each prisoner, according to a report released March 7.
The NGO monitors 18 of Cambodia’s 26 prisons, where it said that by February 43 mothers and 4 pregnant women were raising or had given birth to a total of 50 children, often in overcrowded cells and with scant, unsanitary food.
Prison Secretariat Director-General Heng Hak said Friday he had not yet seen the report but called its claims “absolutely wrong and untrue.”
“I acknowledge some prisons still face difficulties. But the allegations in the report on violence against children are definitely incorrect. No prison guards beat children and no children are witness to violence,” he said.
Prison rules allow children under the age of six to live with their jailed mothers though in practice children as old as 13 are allowed to remain in prison, according to the report. Licahdo says it is not necessarily opposed to the presence of children in prison but wants conditions to improve.
The report followed the case of a mother and daughter whose identities are kept secret.
“The prison guards used to hit my child…because they said my child disturbed them! She was hit so many times, each time I would be so scared for her in case something worse happened and I would cry,” said the mother, whom the report calls “Lina.”
The daughter, “Maly,” describes seeing punishment meted out to prisoners.
“A few times, I saw the prison people use a knife to cut some of the prisoners to punish them because I think they were fighting,” she is quoted as saying. “I saw lots of blood come out of the prisoners!”
Heng Hak maintained no such conditions exist.
“I am not aware of the reason behind such writing because there are at least six NGOs, including the [International Committee of the Red Cross] monitoring the prisons,” he said.
“Such writing is not constructive criticism but basically discourages officials and other NGOs actively helping us and makes us all unhappy,” he added.