Sixteen-month-old Yun Sothearith may have only just learned to walk and talk, but he is already familiar with life behind bars.
Yun Sothearith was born in Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar Correctional Center 2 prison, where his mother, 33-year-old Rose Khamvann, is serving a five-year sentence for pimping and human trafficking.
Sitting in the prison courtyard Sunday morning, Rose Khamvann confessed that life had become more difficult since giving birth.
Among her complaints were a perpetual lack of food, not enough room to move around in their small cell and hot temperatures.
“For the women who have no children, it is easier to stay in the prison,” she said, watching as her daughter mingled with other inmates’ children nearby.
According to NGO Legal Aid of Cambodia, about 310 children between the ages of 14 and 18 at CC2 are not given enough food to eat. The two meals inmates receive per day at CC2 are insufficient, said Try Samos, a project manager for Legal Aid’s Child Justice Program.
In order to ease the lives of children in prison—and to mark International Children’s Day on Sunday—local rights group Licadho paid a visit to CC2, delivering food, toys and other supplies.
“We did not forget the children,” said Licadho President Kek Galabru.
“We want them to remember that we are thinking of them.”
A recent Licadho survey of 12 prisons counted 41 children living with their incarcerated mothers, four pregnant inmates and 576 prisoners under the age of 18.
“They are in jail, but they still have their rights,” said Kek Galabru.
Heng Hak, director-general of the Interior Ministry’s prison general department, said Friday that children in CC2 have enough to eat.
Thum Keng, deputy director of the prison general department, said it was the children’s bad luck to be born behind bars, but that the aim was to surround all inmates in a positive environment.
“Here is a correction and education place, and not a punishment place at all. Today you are even luckier than other children because the NGO provides you with aid,” he told inmates and their children during Licadho’s Sunday visit.
Khin Tykuon, the prison’s deputy director, said that inmates are provided all kinds of support every day.
“Right now, we have good cooperation with other NGOs and rehabilitation officers to run a kindergarten school for the children of mothers here,” he said, adding that the school was opened two years ago.
(Additional reporting by Prak Chan Thul)