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The plight of Prey Sar's children

Sitting under a tree in the courtyard at Prey Sar prison’s Correctional Centre 2, 20-year-old Chav Longdy is counting the days until she can take her 10-month-old daughter, Alita, outside the facility gates to play with other children.

Serving a three-year sentence for robbery, with one year remaining, the young mother hopes to shield her daughter from her early upbringing.

“I won’t tell my daughter that she was born in prison … because I am afraid she will be upset and shy,” Chav Longdy said yesterday. “I will keep it secret forever.

“I pity my daughter because she cries every day and she is sick sometimes because the room is hot. More than 20 people stay in one room,” she added, claiming that prisoners were only permitted to leave their cells for 30 minutes at a time.

Alita is just one of an estimated 58 children housed in Cambodia’s prisons, according to figures released by human rights group Licadho on International Children’s Day yesterday.

An estimated 25 pregnant women are also housed in prisons nationwide, with an estimated 10 children and seven pregnant women housed at Correctional Centre 2, or CC2 as it is commonly known, in Phnom Penh.

Yesterday, a small group of women – some pregnant and some with children on their laps – sat alongside Chav Longdy in the CC2 courtyard, receiving baby food, clothing and hygiene products to mark International Children’s Day.

Nearby, more than 100 male prisoners played games and accepted food distributed by NGO volunteers, while many female prisoners who had gathered outside their cell blocks to observe the events were ushered from wire fences by guards. Some watched through the bars of their cells.

Azenette Fajardo, 31, from the Philippines, has been imprisoned in CC2 for the past two years, following a conviction for using fake credit cards. Her son Miguel, who is one year and five months old, lives in prison with her.

“I am trying to get him [Miguel] to live outside,” she said, adding that prison conditions at CC2 were unsanitary.

“They put the people with [tuberculosis] in the room next to us. Toilets have problems, the water cannot flow. Sometimes I use dirty water.”

She said that there was not enough food for Miguel and that prisoners with no access to money were ignored when they were sick.

Treerat Chonthon, 32, who has been imprisoned at CC2 for two years on drug charges, also lives in the prison with her son David, who is nearly two years old.

She has family in Thailand and hopes to send David to live with them in the future.

“I have already been in contact with the [Thai] embassy,” she said. “They have contacted my family.”

The women’s experiences of living in CC2 echo reports, released in recent years, that detailed dire conditions for pregnant women, mothers and children in Cambodia’s prisons – with scant access to food, clean water and adequate healthcare.

A report released by Licadho last year, which surveyed six pregnant women and 32 mothers living with their children in 10 prisons in 2009, stated that the government budgeted 2,800 riel (US$0.56) per prisoner per day, with half of this amount allocated to any children.

“No additional funding is currently provided to support pregnant women or children living in prison with additional food, water or medical assistance,” the report said.

Officials from the General Department of Prisons at the Ministry of Interior could not be reached for comment yesterday, but Licadho president Pung Chhiv Kek said that further funding for pregnant women and children being raised in prisons had not yet been provided.

“Food, medical care, hygiene, overcrowding: there are a lot of problems,” she said.

“[The mother] has only one portion of food – not two portions, not three portions – so it’s not enough to share with the children. The children are not well developed.”

Licadho recommended last year that vitamins, extra food rations and breastfeeding training be provided to pregnant and lactating women and that there be better access to healthcare for pregnant women, mothers and children.

However, amenities in Cambodia’s prisons are “commodified”, Licadho prison consultant Jeff Vize said yesterday.

“Whether you’re talking about space, food, time for recreation and … medicine and healthcare, especially more serious healthcare … if you have the money you’re much more likely to get it done,” he said.

Jeff Vize added that CC2 had a “pre-school”, but that prisons generally could only provide limited educational facilities for children.

Officially prisons allow children to remain with their mothers until the age of six but some children stay in prisons for longer if there is nowhere for them to go, Pung Chhiv Kek said.

“There is no school inside the prisons,” she added.

“[Prison officials] have to find a way to send the children outside because they have to go to school, but the problem is, sometimes the child has no one outside of the prison.”

CC2 prison chief Klot Dara said yesterday that children at the facility were allowed outside the prison, and they enjoyed the same rights to education as youngsters living outside its gates.

“They can learn technical skill like mechanics and computer skills,” he said.

He was not available to comment further.

In January, director general of the prison department, Kuy Bunson, declared that Cambodia’s jails faced “severe overcrowding”, with 14,043 prisoners as of December 15 last year, up 718 prisoners from 2009.

Of these prisoners, 6,836 were incarcerated throughout the course of 2010.

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