Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Justice system failing child victims: experts

Justice system failing child victims: experts

A nine-year-old rape victim waits in a Battambang province police station last month.
A nine-year-old rape victim waits in a Battambang province police station last month. Athena Zelandonii

Justice system failing child victims: experts

Cambodia’s justice system often fails to support children who are victims of and witnesses to crime, many of whom are so terrified to appear in court that they’re unable to give testimony, children’s rights experts said yesterday.

“When children are abused, they often respond by repressing and fragmenting memories,” Micaela Cronin, CEO of Hagar International, said during the launch of a new guide to train lawyers and caregivers working with child witnesses and victims. “That’s why it’s so important that people working in the justice system be sensitive to children.”

The new guide, released by Hagar and UNICEF, aims to give adults in Cambodia the tools to protect and communicate with children in a justice system that can often increase the stress of traumatised children.

Children are occasionally transported to trial in the same vehicles or made to wait in the same room as their abuser, experts said.

Meanwhile, overworked lawyers often forget that children have the right to ask for a screen to block them from seeing their abuser, or to speak through video technology instead of being present in the courtroom, explained Debora Petworth, a juvenile law expert with Hagar.

Demanding these rights be protected is part of the lawyer’s responsibility, Petworth said. But many lawyers say the video technology is unavailable in provincial courts as they don’t have the extra rooms in which to set it up, or because officials don’t understand the technology.

But Appeals Court prosecutor Tan Senarong said the negligence can’t be blamed on a lack of technical skills. “That’s just an excuse,” Senarong said. “It’s as easy as operating an iPhone.”

Asked whether the higher courts could pressure provincial courts to begin offering the video option to children, Senarong said the Ministry of Justice could “take action” if a complaint were made in writing.

But some experts say the government has done little to ensure the technology is available.

“Anecdotally, this [screens and video technology] doesn’t seem to be offered very often,” said Billy Tai, a legal analyst in Cambodia. “And I haven’t seen any push on the part of the government to enforce this.”

Members of UNICEF say they hope the new guidelines will help address these issues.

“We want these guidelines to be mainstream in the Cambodian justice system,” said Debora Comini, Cambodia’s UNICEF director.

MOST VIEWED

  • Kingdom may hire Turkish power ship

    Cambodia is considering negotiating with Turkey to hire a 200MW-capacity power ship to meet electricity demands as the country faces an ongoing electrical shortage, according to the prime minister. Speaking to garment workers in Pursat province on Wednesday, Prime Minister Hun Sen said Electricite du

  • ‘Kingdom lacks up to 400MW in available electricity’

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has called on the general public, hoteliers and businesspeople with generators to use them as back-up as the Electricity Authority of Cambodia cannot generate enough electricity to meet needs due to low water levels in power station reservoirs. On Saturday evening

  • EDC tackles power shortfall

    Electrcite Du Cambodge (EDC) on Monday issued a statement updating the public on its efforts to tackle insufficient electricity supplies during the ongoing dry season. Reductions in electricity prices have resulted in a steady increase in consumers in the Kingdom, while local and international investors

  • African swine fever spreads to VN-Cambodia border

    African swine fever has spread to parts of Vietnam that border Cambodia’s Ratanakkiri and Kratie provinces, a Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries official said on Friday. Tan Phannara, the General Directorate of Animal Health and Production director-general, told a Phnom Penh workshop that