Cambodia’s justice system is overlooking the rights of children, according to the first detailed research into child witnesses and victims released Wednesday, with medical examinations of rape victims and extortion of families highlighted as major problems.
Compiled by researchers for Hagar International and Unicef, the report, “A System Just for Children,” notes that few cases involving children make it to court and result in successful prosecutions. For those that do, it says, “there is little attention to the special needs of child victims at policy level.”
The report is based on interviews last year with 54 children between the ages of 10 and 19—the vast majority of them female victims of rape or other sexual abuse—and also draws on information provided by police and judicial authorities.
The medical examination process for cases involving child sex crimes was heavily criticized in the report, which says that fewer than 10 percent of girls reported being examined by a female doctor, and that parents were seldom allowed to accompany their children to the procedure.
While most children said they were treated “normally” during medical examinations, which are usually paid for by NGOs, some described being regarded with contempt by doctors.
“I felt so much pain when they were doing the procedure and I told the doctor but he said, ‘I don’t have time to spend with patients so do not complain,’” one 15-year-old rape victim was quoted as saying.
Exposure to perpetrators in court was the most commonly cited source of anxiety for young victims. Many recounted how they were forced to sit in the same hallway as the perpetrator outside the courtroom, while most had to sit near their attacker in court.
“He was so close, just a few meters away in the courtroom. I was afraid he would molest me again,” one child in the report said.
Corruption was also singled out as a problem, with 20 percent of interviewees reporting that police would not initiate an investigation until they received a bribe.
“Until we gave them money, the police seemed not to care much about our case. They did extortion, demanding money before they did their work,” said a mother whose 11-year-old daughter was raped. She said the perpetrator was eventually arrested after her brother sold his mobile phone and borrowed money to pay off the police.
The 159-page report—which documents children’s experiences from the moment a crime is reported until after the trial—offers both short- and long-term recommendations, including that children be shielded from perpetrators in the courtroom by partitions and that more women be trained to conduct medical examinations.
Major General Yim Virak, deputy director of the Interior Ministry’s anti-human trafficking and juvenile protection department, rejected several of the report’s findings at its launch in Phnom Penh on Wednesday.
“What I hear here is that we have done no good things at all,” Maj. Gen. Virak said.
“Some of these things are not acceptable to us because they happened a long time ago,” he added. “Officers intimidating children to pay money for their services has not happened for a long time because we have been doing our job very well.”