The Kompong Thom Provincial Court on Monday charged a teenager with raping his 8-year-old neighbor on Friday, though police and court officials said they were unsure whether the boy was 14, the minimum age of criminal responsibility.
The teenager, who lived with his grandmother in Stung Sen City following the death of his mother, was arrested hours after he allegedly raped his neighbor early Friday morning after convincing her to come to visit his nearby home.
“He was charged by the investigating judge with raping a minor after we questioned him this morning,” said Chea Poeun, chief of the provincial police’s serious crimes bureau. “We already sent him to the provincial prison at 11 a.m. for pretrial detention.”
Yet Mr. Poeun said he was not sure whether it was legal for the courts to detain the teenager— who police say confessed to raping the girl after becoming aroused by pornography—as he may be younger than 14.
“We have a problem now because we are not clear about the suspect’s age. According to his family residential book, he is only 13 years and 5 months,” he said. “If he’s underage, authorities cannot arrest or convict him.”
Asked why the authorities had arrested and charged the teenager without first confirming the legality of the move, Mr. Poeun said: “I have no idea because that is the discretion of the judge.”
Officials declined to give the name of the judge handling the case.
However, Ith Sothea, chief provincial prosecutor, said the boy told the court during questioning that he was 15 years old.
“We’re not sure exactly how old he is because his family did not have enough documents—not even the birth certificate or a family book. But according to his father and the suspect, he is 15,” Mr. Sothea said.
“We decided to put him in pretrial detention first for more investigations about his age but if we find out later that he is underage, we’ll release him,” he added.