The Ministry of Social Affairs yesterday confirmed it would construct a new national facility to rehabilitate child offenders.
The news follows a meeting last Thursday when spokesman Touch Channy told attendees that the new centre to detain juvenile offenders would be built following the recent adoption of the Juvenile Justice Law. The bill was signed into law by King Norodom Sihamoni in July.
“This law protects the children under a certain age [18-years-old],” Channy said yesterday. “With this law we don’t keep those children at the prisons; we keep them at the rehabilitation centres.”
Channy could not name the kinds of services that would be offered or a specific timeframe for the building’s completion, but said juveniles who broke the law would be “educated”.
Huy Hoeurn, the deputy-general of prisons, welcomed the news about the centre. He said it was sorely needed as he had witnessed children as young as 12 – below the age of criminal responsibility threshold of 14 – being detained alongside adult female prisoners at Prey Sar.
“At the prison now there is no proper system to educate those underage children for the wrongdoing; there is hardly anything to make them reform,” Hoeurn said.
Nhep Sopheap, the secretary-general of the National Cambodian Council for Children, said the juvenile detention centre would be located at the Khmer-French-Hungarian Friendship Orphanage Centre in Kandal province.
“It’s going to be a national rehabilitation centre. This is our priority. Of course there is demand at the provincial level also,” Sopheap said. “What we are lacking now is training and education for social workers.”
The Kandal orphanage is the same site, Channy announced in July, where people with mental disabilities currently detained at the capital’s notorious Prey Speu detention centre would be moved.
However, Billy Gorter, of This Life Cambodia, a juvenile rehabilitation NGO, said it was paramount that children were not detained alongside adults.
“Children should always be separated from adults in detention facilities and, foremost, provided robust therapeutic interventions to meet each child’s individual needs,” he said via email. He added that the new law lacked some clarity on how “diversion” away from the criminal justice system would be implemented.
“Considering the government is committing to keeping children in families and reducing the number of children in institutions, such legislation leaves a lot of room for interpretation if parents or guardians are unable to be traced in the first instance,” Gorter said.
“We would hope that detention of any individual, especially children under the age of 18, was a last resort and [only] after all other alternatives had been explored,” he said.
Spokespeople from UNICEF and Save the Children declined to comment yesterday.