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Murder suspect, 12, goes free

A 12-year-old Kampong Speu girl who reportedly confessed to luring a 4-year-old relative into a lake and drowning her will face no charges due to her age, raising questions about the limited options in Cambodia’s legal system for dealing with adolescents who commit serious offences.

Instead, the court ordered her mother to pay $2,000 in restitution to the victim’s family, said Sam Sak, director of the provincial crime office. Even that fee will likely go unpaid.

“The court has released her, because since she is under 14, we cannot detain her,” Sak said yesterday. “But the court has ordered her mother to pay the victim $2,000 – however, she cannot pay this, because she is too poor.”

In a videotaped confession made hours after the incident on Saturday, the girl demonstrated how she lured her distant cousin into a lake in Samrong Tong district’s Svay village and drowned her. She then took the girl’s earrings, sold them for $20.50 and bought a $19 mobile phone.

The suspect was taken into police custody and questioned yesterday and Monday, but documents proved she was about a year-and-a-half younger than 14, the age of criminal responsibility in Cambodia.

Cambodia lacks a juvenile court, Cambodian legal expert Sok Sam Oeun said yesterday. In cases where a child under 14 is suspected of a serious crime, it is up to the court to decide how to proceed.

“We have no juvenile court, only one court for everything,” Sam Oeun said yesterday. “The prosecutor, he must decide [whether to pursue charges].”

A draft law on children in conflict with the law has not yet been enacted, Sharon Critoph, prison consultant for rights group Licadho said in an email yesterday, although she believes text for it is being finalised. Children can, however, be put under court supervision.

“The Criminal Code does provide for supervisory, educational, or assistance measures in such cases,” Critoph said. “We are not aware of any such mechanism being regularly implemented, if ever.”

Contact details for the victim’s family were not available.

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