Improving the treatment of child victims in the justice system and introducing a greater reliance on forensic DNA evidence were key goals set yesterday as Cambodian judges, prosecutors and police officials met with their Australian counterparts at the start of a two-day conference on crimes against children.
Authorities present attended technical sessions including one on the strengths and limitations of bodily fluid testing, but a special emphasis was placed on ways to keep underage witnesses comfortable during questioning.
“Good care of the children not only expedites recovery, but it gives them a sense of something being done,” said James McCabe, director of the Child Protection Unit, which sponsored the event along with the Cambodian Children’s Fund.
McCabe said techniques to help victims include reducing the number of questions, and video- or audio-taping the interview to avoid needing to repeat the experience. He added that the government is looking to launch a testimony-taping pilot program over the next few months.
Ty Sovannary, a child rights specialist with Plan International Cambodia, added that interviews should be conducted in a comfortable location, in the presence of a guardian and a lawyer.
Furthermore, if a child doesn’t want to answer a question, the interview should be stopped. Until recently, police and justice officials questioning children have not always hewn to these rules, he said.
“Police capacity is improving thanks to capacity building by the government and many NGOs,” he said.
While caring for victim’s psyches provides better testimony, DNA analysis provides the strong evidence needed to convict or acquit alleged offenders, said McCabe.
Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana praised yesterday’s workshop for teaching local cops new skills. “It is very important for Cambodian police to learn these technical [skills] from the Australian officials,” he said.
“DNA is very important for medical investigation.”
McCabe said Cambodia’s current use of DNA evidence is “minimal” – it was used in only three cases involving children last year.
One of the tests led to the exculpation of an alleged offender. The CPU investigated 293 crimes against children under age 15 last year, 30 of which were homicides, according to a statement released by the unit yesterday.