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Revisions needed in courts’ treatment of children: report

Children that were involved in a criminal case
Children that were involved in a criminal case stand in front of a provincial police station earlier this year. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Revisions needed in courts’ treatment of children: report

Reforms in how child victims and witnesses are handled in Cambodia’s criminal justice system are needed at several levels, a new study by women's and children’s rights NGO Hagar recommends.

Released yesterday evening, the UNICEF-funded study, titled A System Just for Children, compiles information gathered last year in the course of 103 interviews with stakeholders (54 of them being children), as well as information gleaned from other studies.

“Many countries, rich and poor, are experimenting with practical ways to implement theoretical ‘best practice,’ especially around alternative means for obtaining and representing child testimony that do not (re)traumatise children,” the study, written by Dr JK Reimer, says. “As in all countries there are gaps between published policy and the implementation of legal systems in Cambodia.”

Among the primary problems with the way child victims and witnesses of crimes in the Kingdom are treated is the practice of asking them to repeat their testimony for several different groups (police, communal officials, courts, etc), and at times forcing them to come face-to-face with their perpetrators in court, according to Reimer.

The study also details instances in which children at court saw their testimony questioned by their own counsel or were yelled at by judges.

“The defence lawyer tried to confuse and trick me. I could understand some, but not all. And he talked very loud, he yelled at me,” one girl told researchers.

Independent Cambodian legal expert Sok Sam Oeun yesterday agreed that it is often unnecessary for children to be forced to repeat their stories multiple times.

“In criminal cases, I think the court does not need the children to go to the court that many times,” he said.

In addition to longer-term goals such as an overhaul of police and courtroom logistics, the report suggests a number of short-term priorities, including the establishment of clear procedures for interviewing children, ensuring the separation of the victims and perpetrators at all times, an expansion of medical staff equipped to deal with child victims, and improving understanding of when medical testing is useful and to what extent it can be used as reliable evidence.

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