Minister of Interior Sar Kheng called for an increase in efforts to reduce the occurrence of youth offenders and incarceration, while also acknowledging that the issue of overcrowding continued to impact the health and safety of Cambodia’s adult prison population.
Sar Kheng’s statement was made on Friday at the launch of the Strategic and Operational Plan for the Implementation of the Juvenile Justice Law (2018-2020) at the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation.
Speaking to 300 attendees, the minister emphasised that there must be a reduction in the number of imprisoned youth offenders.
“A key point in this plan is the focus on education to understand the advantages of implementing alternatives to reduce the number of children in detention,” Sar Kheng said.
Social Affairs Minister Vong Soth said the plan had two objectives – building a sustainable juvenile justice system and providing effective protection and support to incarcerated juveniles.
The Juvenile Justice Law was first introduced in September last year to reform Cambodia’s juvenile justice system and establish its first juvenile prison in the capital Phnom Penh.
The law emphasised prevention and rehabilitation as the proper response to youth criminality rather than harsh punishment.
Prior to the reform, Cambodia lacked a justice system tailored to the needs of children, with young offenders aged 14 to 18 incarcerated in Cambodian prisons alongside adults – something NGOs at the time warned would open the youths to “exploitation and abuse”.
As of this year, 1,558 youth offenders are being detained throughout the country, with the largest number held in institutions in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Banteay Meanchey provinces, Sar Kheng said.
The Minister of Interior’s speech also referenced recent concerns expressed by government officials about conditions inside prisons and the health of inmates.
Officials recently spoke of a rise in prisoners suffering from contagious diseases such as tuberculosis as a result of overcrowding, depression, poor hygiene and a lack of clean water.
The head of the Ministry of Interior’s General Department of Prisons’ health office, Chea Saret, said on December 15 that tuberculosis had grown incrementally inside the Kingdom’s prisons.
In the first six months of this year, 191 of the Kingdom’s 30,000 detainees had contracted tuberculosis, compared to 214 cases among 20,000 detainees throughout all of last year.
Saret also said that the number of HIV positive detainees rose from 1.38 per cent of the total prison population last year to 1.52 per cent of the total prison population this year. Most of the HIV-positive inmates were incarcerated on drugs charges.
“For HIV-positive inmates, we’ve placed them in separate parts of the prison. The health office can’t afford to provide services related to taking care of HIV-positive people, so we send them to obtain outside services instead,” she said.