A new juvenile justice law designed to steer youth offenders toward restorative justice instead of incarceration was passed by the National Assembly on Monday after more than a decade in the works.
Child protection groups cheered the passage of the 16-chapter Law on Juvenile Justice, which moved through the Assembly without debate amid an opposition boycott over attempts to arrest CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha.
Such groups have long fought to set up ways of dealing with child offenders without resorting to prisons.
Social Affairs Minister Vong Sauth said the legislation focused on management, protection and education strategies that “include families and communities,” as well as NGOs, to implement juvenile protection policies.
The law will cover areas including homelessness, sexual abuse, disability, drug addiction and crime among young people, Mr. Sauth said.
Iman Morooka, chief of communication at Unicef Cambodia, said the law is based on the premise that “diversion” is the proper response to youth criminality, rather than punishment through the adult justice system.
“Focusing on punishment, rather than diversion and restorative justice; whereby children are given an opportunity to repair the damage done, actually increases the likelihood that a child will sink into criminality and re-offend, as enduring the arrest and court proceedings can traumatize a child,” Ms. Morooka said in an email.
“Young offenders who have committed minor offenses such as theft or drug use are currently tried as adults and often face prison time in areas shared with adults. Many of these children struggle to return to normal life.”
Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for rights group Licadho, said the law was solid, but that implementing it was another question—as were the conditions under which it was passed.
“I wanted the National Assembly to discuss and debate it in detail to find the weak and good points, including all lawmakers from all the parties, to avoid criticism from the people,” he said.
(Additional reporting by David Boyle)