The judicial system is prematurely and unnecessarily breaking up families and thwarting the development of children by sending to provisional detention mothers who pose little or no danger to society, according to a new report from rights group Licadho.
“Mothers Behind Bars: The Impact of Detention on Women and their Children” criticizes the courts for making provisional detention the rule rather than the exception, using mothers separated from their children as a way of illuminating the issue.
“Each year hundreds of children are separated from their mothers for no good reason and their lives can fall apart as a result. Yet for many this suffering is easily avoidable,” Licadho president Pung Chhiv Kek said in a statement Monday.
The report is based on interviews with 96 mothers who spent time in the country’s notoriously overcrowded prisons, and leans on the Code of Criminal Procedure and a recent commitment by the ministries of interior and justice to consider the welfare of children when making judgments on provisional detention and to expedite the trials of mothers detained during court proceedings.
Articles 203 to 205 of the code state that the “charged person shall remain at liberty,” except in situations where the alleged offender is likely to offend again, to interfere with the trial or investigation, or could find themselves in danger.
All 96 women interviewed for the report said they were detained ahead of trial, while 56 had been accused or convicted of relatively minor drug-related offenses.
“Sadly, Licadho’s research findings demonstrate that the Ministry of Justice guidelines are clearly not being properly or consistently followed,” the report says.
The Licadho report found that these conditions were rarely met also found that U.N. rules, which state that when women are admitted to prison, at the very least details of her children should be recorded, were not being met.
“One relatively simple step that the Ministry of Justice can take is to ensure that judges and prosecutors receive proper training on the use of the new pre-trial detention forms that were developed with the support of the UN,” Ms. Chhiv Kek said via email Monday.
“When properly used, these forms along with the MOJ guidelines can help judges remember to assess all important factors, including whether a woman is pregnant or has children.”
Ahead of International Women’s Day in March and Khmer New Year in April, a total of 59 women—some mothers, some soon to be—were released from prison at the behest of Prime Minister Hun Sen. The Justice Ministry announced an intention to evaluate the cases of other incarcerated mothers.
Contacted Monday, Chin Malin, a spokesman for the Justice Ministry, said the courts carefully weighed their humanitarian and legal responsibilities before sending any alleged offender to prison.
“So far, we have set up an ad hoc committee to work on female prisoners, pregnant prisoners and those whose children live inside the prisons with inmate mothers,” he said.
“We decide case by case before making a decision on pre-trial detention for pregnant women and women with children to take care of.”