The Ministry of Social Affairs has completed drafting a law on juvenile justice that will soon be moved forward for approval and debate at the legislature. The new law, as drafted, aims to provide rehabilitation opportunities for juveniles, rather than simple prison sentences, and meets international standards, officials say.
Within Cambodia’s overcrowded prison system of some 16,500 prisoners, 504 are juveniles, including 28 girls.
Kong Chhan, an adviser to the Ministry of Social Affairs, said the new law—the result of fact-finding tours to Australia, New Zealand and Thailand—gives juveniles prosecuted under the new Penal Code a chance to reform themselves, rather than land in jail. Juveniles could be put under the supervision of parents and social workers, rather than imprisoned, he said. “It helps them behave and be integrated into society.”
Kong Chhan said the law may upset people who don’t understand it. “We’re turning children away from the courts to the community,” he said. “Some people will say this is a release. It is not a release.”
“We have already reviewed and sent it back to [the Ministry of Social Affairs],” Kim Satntepheap, a judge and spokesman for the Ministry of Justice, said. “After they review it, they can sent it to the Council of Ministers.”
The law has been drafted since 2006, with support from Unicef and input from other NGOs. Iman Morooka, a spokeswoman for Unicef, said proper juvenile justice legislation will ensure children’s rights are protected. Prison should be a last resort, she said.
“Unicef thinks that the government needs this law very urgently because children need a separate juvenile justice system from the adult criminal justice system,” she said. “Children who commit crimes are different from adults. They have a greater capacity for change. They deserve another chance to correct themselves.”