Hundreds of juvenile detainees and convicts have asked to be separated from adults and have complained of deplorable prison conditions, aid workers said Wednesday.
More than 250 young prisoners have asked NGO representatives for separate housing from adults, and for lawyers for their cases, said Sim Souyong, president of the Cambodian NGO, Protection of Juvenile Justice, which works in nine provinces.
“Prisons in Cambodia do not look like other countries’ jails, both minor and adult [prisoners] are being detained in the same room,” Sim Souyong said. Minors, under the age of 18, like all prisoners, are allowed out of their cells for only one hour each day to get exercise and sunshine, he said.
“Putting together under-age and adult suspects and convicts causes prisons to become crime schools,” he said, adding that minors in the past have reported abuse from adult detainees.
Most of the juveniles in prison are facing or have been convicted of offenses related to drugs, rape, robbery and gang fighting, said Ek Mealea, lawyer for Legal Aid of Cambodia. The minors Legal Aid workers with have been eager for lawyers, and complained of being housed with adults, she said last week.
Neither Ek Mealea nor Sim Souyong knew the number of under-age prisoners. Sim Souyong said there are more than 100 juveniles at Prey Sar prison alone, 70 of whom are awaiting trial.
Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak said prison directors try to avoid housing juveniles with adults, but that sometimes it is unavoidable.
“The problem is, we are lacking room,” he said Wednesday.
Asked about living conditions within the prison, he welcomed NGOs to do what the government cannot afford.