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New anti-trafficking law reducing paedophile sentences: civil society

New anti-trafficking law reducing paedophile sentences: civil society

Last year’s law reclassifying sexual crimes has ushered in climate of leniency, say rights groups

SLASHED Jail terms

  • Philippe Dessart Original 18-year sentence for sexual abuse of a 13-year-old boy reduced to three years on appeal after his charges were reclassified under the new law.
  • Nikita Belov Charged with abusing three boys aged seven to 13 years, was released in July after having his three-year sentence suspended by Sihanoukville Municipal Court, which ordered him to pay $250 in damages to each victim.  
  • Alexander Trofimov Had a 13-year sentence slashed to seven on appeal in October.

THE lengths of prison sentences given to convicted paedophiles have fallen since the passage of the Kingdom's new anti-human trafficking law, according to civil society groups, who say the new legal classifications of underage sex crimes make it easier for the guilty to avoid lengthy prison terms.

On Monday, Preah Sihanouk provincial court prosecutors filed an appeal seeking a harsher sentence for twice-convicted paedophile Alexander Trofimov, following his sentencing January 20 for further child-sex charges involving 18 underage victims.

Trofimov was handed an 11-year term by the court, which rights groups decried as "unbelievable" and grossly out of proportion to his crimes.

"On behalf of all human rights organisations, we find the verdict difficult to accept," said Pork Sabon, an investigator for the rights group Licadho in Preah Sihanouk province.

According to anti-paedophile groups, the passage of the new Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation in February last year, which replaced Cambodia's old debauchery law - applied in almost all child-sex cases - with a series of sex-related offences, has contributed to a growing tendency towards leniency in paedophile cases.

"Under the old law, sexual exploitation was usually prosecuted under charges of debauchery, which carried a sentence from 10 to 15 or 20 years," said Samleang Silea, executive director of anti-paedophile group Action Pour Les Enfants.

"But under the new law ... each case of sexual exploitation can fall under specific articles. If sexual exploitation does not reach intercourse, then it can fall under ‘indecent acts'."

He noted that old charges of debauchery carried a 10-year minimum, while some articles in the new legislation - such as the "indecent acts against a minor" charge - carry penalties of between one and three years.

Growing leniency

The new law previously came under fire from rights groups after Philippe Dessart, a Belgian national arrested in April 2006 on child-sex charges, had an 18-year sentence reduced to three years by the Phnom Penh Court of Appeal on July 26, after having old charges retroactively retried under the new charge of "indecent acts".

Trofimov also had a 13-year paedophilia sentence slashed to seven years by the Court of Appeal in October.

Samleang Silea said the new law, while being more precise and targeted than the old one, had little deterrent effect on would-be sex offenders.

"Technically, this new law is much better than the old law because each article and each crime is clearly defined. But in terms of punishment, it is giving opportunities to sex perpetrators to continue their immoral behaviour," he said.

Bith Kimhong, head of the Ministry of Interior's Department of Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection, said that both Trofimov and Dessart had their charges changed from Article 34 ("purchase of child prostitution") to Article 43 ("indecent acts"), but could not comment on the reasons for the courts' reconsideration of the charges.

"I disagreed with the sentence. It was very light," he said of the Trofimov verdict, but added that problems were not with the letter of the new law, which was "a big improvement" over the previous one, but in its application.

"The punishment of perpetrators remains almost the same. The most serious ones have to be sentenced to around 20 years in prison," he said. "Now the [Trofimov] prosecutor is appealing the verdict."

Pisey Ly, a technical assistant at the Women's Agenda for Change, a local rights group, was unable to comment on recent paedophilia cases, but said the focus on sentences could draw attention away from the underlying causes of human trafficking and sex crimes.

"[Seeking to] sentence people for a very long time does not address the issue. Trafficking is related to many issues: poverty, the economic situation, information," she said. "We have to look at the root causes."

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