An almost 40 per cent increase in the number of women and girls in Cambodian prisons in the past two years likely correlates with a rise in the number of drug arrests, rights group Licadho said yesterday.
In a statement released to coincide with International Women’s Day today, the NGO’s figures showed female inmates in prison had increased by 39 per cent, to 1,270, from December 2010 to December 2012.
Licadho called on the government to reconsider its “overuse” of imprisonment of women and girls for “petty non-violent” drug crimes and thefts, adding that many of the women raising children or pregnant in Cambodia’s prisons had been arrested on drug charges.
“The sad truth is that women tend to work at the lowest level, but the sharpest end, of the drug trade,” said Licadho president Pung Chhiv Kek. “As drug transporters and sellers – and often consumers – they are easy targets for government drug crackdowns, whilst the high-level drug traffickers go unpunished.”
Brigadier General Sok Chour, deputy chief of the anti-drug police department at the Ministry of Interior, said, however, that the number of women arrested for drug-related offences during 2012 – 247 – had almost halved from 438 in 2011.
In most cases, he added, the women were arrested in relation to major drug seizures.
“In general, we have seen that the number of drug trafficking, production and use has decreased,” he said. “And the number of women arrested for drugs has also decreased.”
Chour said police were trying to target more drug-trafficking bosses. “Although we have arrested more ringleaders, it’s not enough,” he admitted.
Licadho said it was also concerned with the “overuse” of pre-trial detention and the fact that of the 14 pregnant women in prisons in December, none had gone to trial by that time.