Cambodia is drafting special legislation for juveniles in the justice system, with officials meeting Tuesday in an effort to reduce long prison sentences and implement more protection.
The rights group Licadho estimates there are 742 juveniles, including 29 girls, in the national prison system, with sentences between five and 10 years. Offenses include murder, drug trafficking, theft, assault and rape, said Am Sam Ath, head of Licadho’s investigation unit.
Hy Sophea, secretary of state for the Ministry of Justice, told the workshop on Tuesday that judges are usually more lenient when applying regular law to juveniles.
“If the court sentences old offenders to a maximum five years in prison, child offenders are sentenced to two years and six months,” he said. What would be a lifetime sentence for an adult becomes a 20-year sentence for a juvenile, the maxium, he said.
Op Vibol, child justice program manager for Legal Aid of Cambodia, told VOA Khmer on Tuesday that the current penal code is not robust enough to protect children.
“We need a special law for juvenile justice,” he said. “The court, lawyers, judicial police and officials from the Ministry of Social Affairs should be trained for professionally dealing with children.”
And while in theory sentences should be shorter for children, he said, right now courts are handing out sentences similar to those for adults.
“If we sentence children to a prison term, it affects the children’s future,” he said, including discrimination, loss of housing, and a criminal record.
A better solution is to bring juveniles to centers, where they can be educated and rehabilitated and trained for a job. “This is better than putting them in prison,” he said.