Prime Minister Hun Sen has agreed to grant the request that children who are under the age of 5 and are victims of violence or sexual abuse not be required to appear in court to testify as witnesses in their cases, as being in such close proximity to their abusers or having to recount what took place publicly could traumatise them unnecessarily.
Hun Sen was visiting orphans and child victims of abuse at the centre for vocational training and women’s rehabilitation – AFESIP – in Prey Sar commune of the capital’s Dangkor district on January 1, when the request was made.
At the event, AFESIP director Somaly Mam said that children aged 5 or younger should not be forced to face the accused during the court hearing as it will only cause them additional psychological harm and they may return home with increased anxiety or panic attacks.
“I can accept this request. Only representing lawyers should attend the trial. Therefore, Minister of Justice Koeut Rith and Chou Bun Eng, permanent vice-chair of the National Committee for Counter Trafficking (NCCT), must work together on this issue. Bringing young children to court will only increase the impact of the harms already done to them,” he said.
He recommended that the court consider this issue and agree to institute a policy wherein only the lawyer representing the victim is required to attend the hearings, saying he hoped that the courts would accept the request and adjust procedures accordingly.
“It is very difficult for children if they have experienced bad things and then they must face those who committed the abuses against them. Their fears have not yet gone away, yet we bring them to face those who frightened them and thereby causing more problems for them,” he said.
“When they return to the [AFESIP] centre, the care providers here will have to take care to avoid forcing them to experience that again,” he added.
Hun Sen announced that he would continue to provide support for female abuse victims at the centre with scholarships up to the Bachelor’s degree level, along with financial support for them while they are attending school.
From January of this year going forward, he will support the centre with 1.2 tonnes of milled rice and 20 million riel ($5,000) on a monthly basis. Previously, he provided the same amount of rice but financial support was just 10 million riel per month.
Children at the AFESIP centre will also receive financial support of 100,000 riel per month, while the centre itself will receive $50,000 annually as a reserve fund for emergency use.
At the event, Somaly said her centre had helped more than 7,000 children to date. Currently, a total of 148 children are under psychological, physical and legal care at the centre, which will support them until they complete their higher education or vocational training.
“I am proud of them for standing up and getting an education and training even though they have been victimised,” she said.
Am Sam Ath, deputy director for rights group LICADHO, agreed that it is not necessary in most cases for the court to bring the victim to the trial to testify in order to obtain a conviction.
“The judicial system in our country doesn’t have a specialised court for dealing with children or women in relation to rape or abuse. In some countries, they have procedures which prevent child victims from having to confront the perpetrator because when children meet their abusers again, it can affect their mental health severely,” he said.
“So, avoiding having the children facing the perpetrators is the correct thing to do,” he added.
Sam Ath also requested that the court hand down severe penalties for perpetrators who sexually abuse or rape children as such crimes are cruel and immoral, and those who commit the offences tend to repeat them after their release.