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Arrest of boy, 11, highlights issue of child drug runners

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A child poses for a photo with packets of drugs on Sunday in Phnom Penh after being detained by authorities. National police

Arrest of boy, 11, highlights issue of child drug runners

An 11-year-old boy was arrested in Tuol Kork district on Sunday night on suspicion of drug trafficking after officers found him carrying 24 packages of white powder believed to be narcotics, police said.

The boy was arrested and taken for questioning after being found selling the powder in Boeung Kak II commune, according to the National Police website, though local police declined to be interviewed yesterday.

The arrest was the latest case of a juvenile being detained for a drug offence, with a 14-year-old girl being released from prison only last month after a judge ruled her detention illegal due to her age at the time of arrest.

Meas Vyrith, head of the National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD), said the recent spate of arrests was not new, with drug dealers having long exploited children in order to make their jobs easier.

“I remember in 2003, in an old building near Aeon Mall, they were using girls around 10 years old to sell drugs,” he said, explaining that the dealers use children below the age of criminal responsibility – 14 in Cambodia – to hawk the drugs as they cannot be jailed for it.

However, despite the NACD having been aware of the issue of child drug mules for more than a decade, Vyrith said there was no strategy in place to try to stop it, with a current anti-drug plan under development not including provisions to manage the problem.

Justice Ministry Undersecretary of State Koeut Rith said that the government’s broader approach to the issue was to offer treatment to drug-dependent child mules, and to arrest the adults behind them.

“What’s important is to find out who is behind this activity,” he said. “The one who is behind this will be punished; he or she is the one who is responsible.”

“The question we have to ask is: ‘Why is such a young kid so out of control?’” he continued. “They have parents, so we search for their parents and attempt to find those behind the mule. Such a young kid doesn’t commit crime; how does he get the drugs?”

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