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Law to deal leniently with young offenders

Ministries drafting juvenile justice measures.

THE ministries of social affairs and justice are organising a draft law regulating the treatment of minors in the country’s justice system in a bid to protect the rights of children who commit minor offenses, officials said on Wednesday.

THE PURPOSE OF THIS LAW IS TO PARDON CHILDREN WHO MAKE SMALL PROBLEMS.

Prak Chanthoeun, director general of the Social Affairs Ministry’s Technical Department, said all ministries were being encouraged to join the effort to establish a law that would reduce punishments for petty offenders under the age of 18.
“The reason we want to establish a law on justice in the case of minors is because we don’t want to arrest underage children and send them to prison when they do something wrong,” he said, adding that the authorities recognise that hundreds of minors are already incarcerated in the prison system.

“Even if they have committed criminal offenses and are sent to prison, they need education, health services.... How can they get this?” he added.
Nget Sokun, a senior prison researcher at the rights group Licadho, said 782 minors, 24 of whom were girls, were arrested and jailed between January and September of this year.

It Rady, secretary of state at the Ministry of Justice, said the proposed law would help prevent children from getting caught up in the criminal justice system after committing minor offenses.

“We don’t want a child to have a criminal record, because a criminal record could affect their future,” he said.

“The purpose of this law is to pardon children who make small problems. We don’t want them arrested.”

Filling a legal vacuum
Children’s rights groups applauded the announcement that a new law was in the works, saying the lack of legislation in the area of juvenile justice had created a legal grey area.

“In Cambodia, we do not yet have a justice law for juveniles. If this law is established it will be very good for underage offenders,” said Am Sam Ath, a researcher at Licadho.

But he added that groups such as his would fight to ensure the law fully respects the fundamental rights of children.

“If the Ministry of Social Affairs lets us provide some ideas, we will let them know if some articles impact children’s interests.”

Chea Pyden, executive director of the Vulnerable Children’s Assistance Organisation, agreed the law could help children by replacing the provisions in the Kingdom’s 1992 UNTAC Penal Code with a more humane set of laws.

He said that under the 1992 Code, a child stealing a small amount of dried fish could be accused of robbery and slapped with hefty punishments.

“Without [a new] law it’s very difficult for us. We don’t know how to help them,” he said.

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