PUBLIC debate over the new draft juvenile justice law opened up yesterday, as the government explained its proposal further and civil society actors urged for stronger rights guarantees in accordance with international norms.
One important provision in the new draft legislation establishes provisions for diversion, meant to steer youth away from the criminal legal system in line with the law’s stated principle that detention should be a “last resort” for minors.
“The main point of diversion is to educate and correct the behaviour of the minor,” said Ith Rady, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Justice. “There are a lot of obligations [that can be] imposed on the minor so that the minor will not reoffend and can be reintegrated into the family and community,” he said.
Instead of serving time in a detention centre, minors eligible for diversion could face options ranging from payment of compensation for damages, to judicial surveillance, overseen by the court prosecutor or someone he or she designates, such as a social worker.
The circumstances of the offence, potential threat to a victim and the personality of the minor could determine whether or not diversion would be appropriate, Ith Rady said. A minor and/or his or her parent, guardian or appropriate support person must consent to the plan.
But Vong Ton, a human rights officer at the local UNOHCHR, said diversion as currently formulated was too restricted. Only minors who have committed petty crimes or misdemeanors are eligible for diversion. He suggested including some felonies, such as stealing, under suitable offences.
Some minors won’t make it into diversion programmes and will be sentenced to serve time in a detention centre, to be established by the Ministry of Social Affairs. Youths can be sent to prison once they turn 18, Ith Rady said, and until such centres are established.
So Serey Vathana, a child protection officer with UNICEF, said the law should provide more detail about the standards required for these centres.
“We want to include a chapter on treatment and conditions of children in the detention centre,” she said.
Moreover, she urged the government to include in the law rights of the minor that are not currently expressed, but are part of the criminal procedural code. Those include the right to presumption of innocence, the right not to answer a question, the right to a lawyer free of charge and the right to privacy.
Drafting for the law on juvenile justice began in 2000.