Release plan ignores issue: org

A female inmate holds her baby at a prison in Phnom Penh in 2009
A female inmate holds her baby at a prison in Phnom Penh in 2009. A local rights group has welcomed the prime minister’s plan to release a number of mothers with children before Khmer New Year. Heng Chivoan

Release plan ignores issue: org

Local rights group Licadho yesterday praised the government’s plan to release a number of incarcerated women who are pregnant or have their children with them in prison within the next week, but said deeper reforms are needed.

In a statement, the NGO said it welcomed an announcement last week from a newly-established Justice Ministry committee that 15 women with children and one pregnant woman will be released from prison before International Women’s Day on Sunday.

But “the underlying problems that will continue to negatively affect imprisoned women and their families in the future” still need to be addressed, it said.

Last week’s announcement came days after Prime Minister Hun Sen, who ordered the formation of the new committee, said in a speech that at least 40 such women would be released before Khmer New Year on April 14.

The surprise action followed a case study released by Licadho last month, examining the harsh conditions faced by children growing up behind bars, which it found could have “devastating physical and psychological consequences”.

In its statement yesterday, Licadho said “necessary systematic changes” were needed, including creating guidelines to determine when it is appropriate for a child to live in prison, and how to remove children from their mothers when they reach the age of 3, when they are legally required to be taken out of prison.

“Such assessments should take into account the child’s age, sex, maturity, health, relationship with the mother and the existence of appropriate alternatives outside prison, as well as the likely impact of prison life on the child’s health and development,” the statement says.

Licadho also called for mothers with dependent children and pregnant women not to be imprisoned “unnecessarily”, noting that, according to its statistics, more than half of pregnant women and women with children who are currently incarcerated are in pre-trial detention, meaning they do not qualify for pardons.

“The courts should really consider the full impact of their decisions and alternative measures before ordering a mother to prison,” said Nou Sam An, Licadho’s prison project supervisor.

Kuy Bunsorn, director general of the Interior Ministry’s General Prisons Department, said the women expected to be pardoned this week include people convicted for “drug abuse, trafficking, theft and murder”.

Bunsorn said that he could not comment on Licadho’s calls for greater reforms. “I just follow the government orders,” he explained.

Justice Ministry officials could not be reached yesterday.

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