The Ministry of Interior’s General Department of Prisons spokesman Nuth Savna announced that it is conducting investigations into the death of a five-month-old baby who had been living with her mother in Correctional Centre II (Prey Sar).
The response came shortly after the human rights NGO Licadho issued a request for prison authorities to take immediate action over the death and its potential connection to prisoner maltreatment and operational inadequacies.
A statement by Licadho said the baby died on January 26, at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital in Phnom Penh.
It said on January 18, the baby suffered a thigh fracture and prison medical staff examined her condition and sent her and her mother to the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital, which usually deals with prisoner treatment.
An X-ray was performed and it was found that the baby had broken a thigh bone. The baby and mother were then admitted to the National Paediatric Hospital because the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital said there were no specialists available to treat a patient of that age.
The National Paediatric Hospital then treated the injured baby and sent her back to Correctional Centre II, despite prison staff asking for the child and her mother to stay overnight in order to monitor their condition before the move.
By the morning of January 26, the child was having difficulty breathing. She was taken to the emergency room, where doctors tried to save the child, but failed.
An autopsy revealed that the child had died of pneumonia and severe malnutrition, said the statement.
The Licadho statement said the death highlights the need for authorities to prioritise provisional bail for women with small children.
“She was not given a defence lawyer, nor did she know she had the right to apply for bail. She was eight months pregnant when she was sent to prison.
“We call on the authorities to take immediate steps to ensure that this never happens again,” Licadho said.
Savna told The Post on Tuesday that the General Department of Prisons was investigating whether the baby’s death was caused by a lack of care by the authorities, inappropriate living conditions, or whether the hospital was at fault.
He said the General Department of Prisons was sorry about the death and acknowledged the lack of adequate care and monitoring of the baby’s condition by prison officials and doctors. “I am investigating the case and have asked for advice on how to proceed,” he said.
Licadho also asked the director-general of the prison to question all eligible detainees whether they wished to be released on bail pending trial, especially in the case of vulnerable detainees, such as women with small children.
“Priority should be given to bail hearings of vulnerable prisoners, such as pregnant women and women with small children, so that they do not need to be held temporarily, in the long run, and without specific time limit,” it said.
Savna said some of Licadho’s requests were implemented by the General Department of Prisons. While others were beyond its jurisdiction, it did not mean they were ignored.
He said vulnerable detainees are a priority of the General Department of Prisons. However, Correction Centre II is difficult to manage because of the large number of detainees, small staff strength and infrastructure inadequacies.