Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN
A young inmate at Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison looks at a prison guard during International Children’s Day celebrations.
THE RIGHTS group Licadho distributed gifts to 408 minor inmates and 17 children incarcerated with their mothers at Phnom Penh's Prey Sar prison Monday to mark International Children's Day.
The inmates were entertained by the popular comedians Tuy and To during an event held Monday morning. Of the 408 incarcerated minors, most of whom are males, 369 were arrested on robbery charges, said prison Chief Chat Sineang.
"It is a shame we have to celebrate International Children's Day in prison, but we must," he said. "These prisoners have done harm to their society, and they must pay for what they have done."
Tham Keng, chief of the Interior Ministry's Prison Correctional Department, said he hoped the presentation of gifts to the inmates would allow them to feel like valued members of society.
"By bringing gifts to the prisoners, Licadho is proving that they do not discrimate against anyone, and that they believe the prisoners can change their bad attitudes," he said.
Licadho representative Ham Sunrit said International Children's Day was being celebrated in 14 of Cambodia's 26 prisons, adding that the celebrations allowed the rights group to highlight concerns about the treatment of minors living behind bars. As of February 2008, there were a total of 50 children living with their mothers in 18 of the prisons that Licadho monitors.
According to its 2007 report, "Prison Conditions in Cambodia: The Story of a Mother and Child", the group's chief concerns include limited access to food and clean water, cell overcrowding, "routine denial of quality medical services" and violence on the part of prison officials and other inmates.
The gift packs distributed Monday included raisins, soy milk, toothpaste, toothbrushes, antibacterial soap, combs, bottled water, bread, fruit and toys.
Sam Sokna, 24, a prisoner at Prey Sar who is serving a six-year sentence for pimping, said she was encouraged by the NGO's visit to the prison.
"This is not the first time they have come," she said. "They always come to give us gifts on Women's Day and for P'chum Ben. These occasions make me feel warm and not hopeless."