The government will break ground on Cambodia’s first rehabilitation centre for juvenile offenders before year’s end, with the facility set to accept some of the country’s estimated 700 incarcerated youth by the middle of next year, according to a Social Affairs Ministry spokesman.
While children’s organisations lauded the move to separate youth from adults, they said protecting juvenile rights and ensuring their smooth reintegration into society would require strict oversight of the centre’s operations.
The centre will host youths aged 14 to 18 to provide the safeguards and services outlined in the new Juvenile Justice Law passed in July, according to a sub-decree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen late last month and seen in the Royal Gazette yesterday.
“For now, we have just left child offenders at Prey Sar prison,” Ministry of Social Affairs spokesman Touch Channy said yesterday, referring to the more than 700 juveniles currently held alongside female prisoners.
The centre, which is fully funded by the government, is expected to be completed six to eight months after construction starts, Channy said, adding he did not know the specific cost.
Upon opening the centre, the ministry hopes to relocate 200 to 300 young offenders from Prey Sar, as the centre’s initial staff of about 50 social workers would not have the capacity to take on all juveniles, he said.
In addition to providing a facility separate from adult offenders, the new centre in Kandal province will segregate detainees by age, sex and the severity of their crimes, the sub-decree said. Both mental and physical health services will be provided by social workers, in addition to vocational training.
“After they serve their punishment, they will be able to be reintegrated into communities, because they’ve already been given skills, so they can find jobs, like as a mechanic,” Channy said, adding that the centre was “not a prison”.
Unicef spokeswoman Iman Morooka lauded the government’s plans, but said follow-through to ensure juvenile justice would require using the centre as a last resort and keeping tight oversight of its conditions.
“As per the provisions under the juvenile justice law, UNICEF strongly advocates for the rehabilitation centres for juveniles to be inspected on a regular basis to ensure that conditions of treatment and detention fully respect the rights of the adolescents,” she said in an email. “Rehabilitation of minors should be closely monitored and supported through the work of the social workers.”
But considering the lack of social workers in the country, rehabilitation could be hard to achieve, said Nget Thy, director of the Cambodia Centre for the Protection of Children’s Rights.
“Counselling is the most important service for the victims, vulnerable children or criminal children, but unfortunately right now in Cambodia there are only so many people who have a background in counselling,” he said.
The centre’s services would need to be geared towards recovery from trauma caused by violence and drug and alcohol abuse, as these are common issues among juvenile offenders, he said. For serious cases, Thy added,
detainees should be referred to private clinics or NGOs.
According to the sub-decree, a prakas outlining the physical and mental health services at the juvenile centre will be drafted by the Ministry of Health. Ministry spokesman Ly Sovann could not be reached, while the deputy director of the ministry’s Department of Planning and Health Information, Sok Kanha, said she was unaware of the plan.