Article: Juvenile justice law in Cambodia
At present in Cambodia, there is no juvenile justice system in Cambodia. Children are tried in adult courts, most often with limited legal representation. They are generally held in adult prisons with limited or no access to rehabilitation or educational support. Regardless of the law, they are frequently held in pre-trial detention, often beyond the legal limit of two months. Thus, children find themselves in a system that is insufficient to respond to their specific needs and rights as children.
In this context, in which both law protection and law enforcement are major challenges, children’s rehabilitation and educational support are big priorities. Evidence shows that currently, Cambodian’s judicial system overlooks this issue and therefore regards prison in a punitive way. This Life Cambodia believes that reintegration of prisoners in society should always be the main goal of any judicial system. Not only does a focus on reintegration promote prisoners’ individual rights, but it is also demonstrated that it constitutes an effective way of preventing prisoners from reoffending upon release. This is of concern especially in the case of children given their propensity for change and also with regard to the success of their leading happy and productive lives into adulthood following their release. The provision of vocational training, together with personal development and family visitation, is fundamental in promoting their right to basic education, to provide them the necessary skills to face life after prison, to prevent them from reoffending.
Even though there is a draft law on juvenile justice —which was expected to be enforced by 2013—, NGO support is (and will be) fundamental in promoting children’s rights in Cambodia. The draft addresses the necessity of providing child friendly environment and access to education to children in prison, but the lack of budget —especially relevant in terms of training professionals such as lawyers, prosecutors and judges— and the fact that prisons are not within the main priorities of the government make the action of NGOs essential.
Being aware that law itself constitutes a great barrier in promoting children’s rights, but also that law enforcement is a key issue because of the lack of resources, This Life Cambodia has been helping to tackle, together with other organizations, some of the major goals anticipated in the draft law —including vocational training and personal development within prison, supporting family visits, knowledge-sharing with the children’s communities and the main stakeholders, and post-release support to ensure students’ reintegration in society—, achieving successful reintegration results over time. As stated above, the lack of investment and enforcement mechanisms of a potential juvenile justice law makes This Life Cambodia and other organizations’ work as necessary as ever.
Did you know that…?
- The Cambodian government has been working on the juvenile justice law since 2000.
- Cambodia has signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child and yet it has not adopted a juvenile justice system.
- Cambodia is the ‘youngest’ country in the region—with almost 50% of its population under 18—, and yet its capacity to protect children who come in contact with the law is among the least developed.
- The Guardian stated that there was a 92% increase in the number of under-18s in prison between 2005 to 2010 —from 403 to 772 children—.
- According to UNICEF, there are only 296 judges and prosecutors, and 500 lawyers registered within the whole country.
- 30% of children in prison are in pre-trial detention.
- According to LICADHO, almost 40% of all children in prison are detained with adults —and consequently sentenced without any regard to their age—.
- By September 2013, only four Cambodian prisons provided children with basic, on-site educational and recreational opportunities; all of these programs are run by NGOs.
About the author: Diego Gines is an intern with This Life Cambodia. A graduate of a double degree in law and political science at Universidad Autónoma de Madrid at 22, Diego is interested in international politics and development. Diego is working within the Community Research and Consultancy Program, the program team responsible for monitoring and evaluation for all This Life Cambodia programs, as well as researching and publishing on issues in development in Cambodia, with the sharing of best practice development knowledge the main focus.
 Information available at: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2012/oct/23/cambodia-children-rights-justice-reform
 Information available at: http://www.unicef.org/cambodia/12961_19157.html
 ELLEN TRAVERS (2011). Upholding children’s rights in the judicial system: An NGO’s experience of working for juvenile justice in Cambodia, p. 2. Available at: http://effectius.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/