A sub-decree establishing Cambodia’s first juvenile prison will be issued by the start of September, Minister of Social Affairs Vong Soth told United Nations Special Rapporteur Rhona Smith on Wednesday.
Observers said such a facility is long overdue, with young people aged 14 to 18 still being incarcerated in Cambodian prisons alongside adults.
“Based on this sub-decree [due] by the end of this month, or the beginning of next month, we will have a centre – or we can say a jail – to put the children who abuse or [behave] contrary to the law,” Soth said, adding that the centre would have capacity for 700 to 1,000 underage inmates.
Smith, who has a special interest in child rights, said 482 children remain incarcerated at Prey Sar’s Correctional Centre 2 in Phnom Penh and noted “it’s not so many more that this new facility will accommodate”.
“It’s very important to focus on the rehabilitation of young people so they can return to the community, and also to consider diversion activities so that people perhaps can serve their sentence in the community,” she said.
She also urged the government to only detain children “when absolutely necessary” and ensure they receive a good education, as well as vocational training, such as air conditioning or motorbike repair, both of which are currently on offer in Prey Sar with assistance from NGO This Life Cambodia (TLC).
Rachel Watkins, TLC’s Children and Families Section lead, said that incarcerating children alongside adults “leaves an already vulnerable group open and exposed to potential exploitation and abuse”.
TLC hoped that multiple centres dedicated to child offenders would be established across the country, not just one in the capital, but they were awaiting clearer details in the forthcoming sub-decree.
Watkins said it was important for child offenders in the provinces to maintain contact with their families or rebuild severed ties, which could reduce the rate of recidivism, but there was a lack of clarity on how those rights were ensured.
“Such ambiguity thus leaves us highly concerned about the reality of how the youth rehabilitation centre(s) would operate in practice and whether they may serve to further (intentionally or otherwise) isolate and disconnect disenfranchised youth from their families, communities and society at large,” she wrote in an email.
Reached yesterday, Ministry of Social Affairs spokesman Touch Channy said an inter-ministerial meeting about the juvenile prison had taken place on Tuesday and the sub-decree had already been sent to the Council of Ministers, but he declined to comment further.
Additional reporting by Mech Dara and Kong Meta