The number of rapes and serious crimes committed against children in Cambodia rose by more than 10 percent last year, according to figures from the Child Protection Unit obtained yesterday.
The CPU, a joint initiative set up by the Cambodian Children’s Fund and the National Police in 2013, investigated 269 serious crimes against children aged 13.5 and under in 24 provinces in 2016, as well as homicides of children aged 15 and younger.
By comparison, there were 244 such investigations by the group in 2015 across 22 provinces. The figures paint a harrowing picture. Rapes were by far the most common recorded crime, having increased from 167 to 205, with victims as young as 2 years old.
“Although any increase is disappointing, what I will say is we expected that increase. There is now an increased faith and confidence in the policing system to report the crime,” CPU director James McCabe said.
“What I am very delighted in is the reduction in homicide. In 2015, it was almost 30, but we’ve got 21 now, so that’s a sign of the reduction in child murder.”
Battambang had the highest number of crimes at 36, with Siem Reap close behind at 34, but he commended both for their 90 percent arrest rates.
“We’re getting to a stage now – around 250 to 270 cases – where I think what’s being reported is close to what’s occurring,” he said.
Now that there was a clearer understanding of the extent of the crimes, he said the CPU would begin to look at causation and harm minimisation this year by making a new database available to help NGOs target their programs.
Several other children’s rights groups also noted a rise in crimes against children last year.
Pat Ponnary, executive director at Banteay Srei, which has shelters in Battambang and Siem Reap, said she had noticed a slight increase and concurred that more people were confident to report the crimes.
“In the past, the parents were not brave or did not show their intention to file a complaint at the court, because they were afraid about the stigma and discrimination towards their children,” she said.
But not all were as optimistic as McCabe that those cases were being resolved. World Vision’s campaign manager Lyda Chea said their monitoring also saw an uptick in crimes. “Around 50 percent of them are unresolved, which could mean there was an informal settlement or the perpetrator was not caught,” she said.
“Our experience shows that people are increasingly aware of their responsibility to report incidents of violence against children, but this does not appear to be translating into actual reporting,” she said.
“Children are still perceived to be the property of adults, with limited rights, which means they can become victim of violence more easily.”
She added there needs to be better enforcement of penalties, which is currently “dramatically undermined through the growing practice of ‘reconciling’ cases through informal cash settlements rather than accessing the justice system”.
Cambodian Center for Human Rights’s fair trial rights project coordinator Hun Seanghak agreed that cases need to not only be investigated by police, but also prosecuted in a court of law.
“Ensuring that perpetrators are brought to justice, by courts that operate impartially, transparently and effectively, is essential for reducing the occurrence of these horrific crimes,” he said.
Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin said the recent dissemination of the newly adopted Juvenile Justice Law should ensure police never settle rape cases with cash, though he admitted that capacity and awareness were still lacking.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KONG META