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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Women behind bars face harsh conditions: report

Women behind bars face harsh conditions: report

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A survey of 18 of the Kingdom’s 26 prisons finds that women are often subject to abuse and denied access to medical care

Photo by: MOM KUNTHEAR

A female prisoner at Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison holds her baby during an NGO circus performance on Saturday.

CORRECTIONAL Centre II, which houses women incarcerated at Phnom Penh's Prey Sar prison, was filled with laughter Saturday afternoon as the rights group Licadho hosted an event for NGOs, prison staff, inmates and the media to mark International Women's Day.

The event coincided with the release of Licadho's latest report, titled "Prison Conditions in Cambodia 2008: Women in Prison", which paints a picture of the daily lives of women behind bars that is decidedly less cheery.

Licadho has access to 18 of Cambodia's 26 prisons, and its human rights officers regularly visit to interview inmates about their living conditions.

According to the report, women are routinely denied access to clean food and water and adequate medical care. In addition, prison facilities are often overcrowded, and women often suffer physical abuse at the hands of prison staff and other inmates.

Of particular concern to Licadho are the 40 children incarcerated with their mothers in the 18 prisons surveyed. The report states that these children do not have access to "nutrition, provisions and education vital for proper development" and that they are also vulnerable to abuse from guards and other inmates.

We like to make sure it’s fun, and for a few hours get them to laugh ...

According to the report, there were 627 women imprisoned in 18 of Cambodia's 26 prisons at the end of 2008, compared with 286 in 2001. By comparison, there were 9,262 men imprisoned in the monitored prisons at the end of 2008.

The report cites "trafficking of humans (sexual exploitation)", "trafficking of drugs (acting as drug mules)", "killings (domestic violence - often in self-defence)" and "robbery (stealing with violence)" as some of the most common reasons women are incarcerated.

A day of light relief

Licadho Director Naly Pilorge said the event held Saturday was designed to provide some light relief for the Prey Sar prisoners and their children, who were entertained by popular comedians Chab Chean and Khat Sokhim.

"We like to make sure it's fun," Pilorge said. "And for a few hours get them to laugh at the comedians."

Khin Tikun, deputy chief of Prey Sar prison, said the prison cooperates with the government and NGOs to improve conditions and give prisoners training to bolster their job prospects ahead of their release. 

Horm Keng, vice president of the Ministry of Interior's Prison Department, said he hopes to reduce the number of women imprisoned in Cambodia, adding that he thinks incarcerated women can reform themselves through education and jobs. 

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