The road to the CC2 prison out side is bumpy and narrow. The wheels of the car whirl dust on the front window. On the open truck bed of the truck in front of ours sits six young boys with their back towards each other. They are handcuffed together two and two. The guard next to them is standing, looks at us and raises his long rifle a little higher into the air. These are some of the children DCA (Folkekirkens Nødhjælp) is trying to help.
“In Cambodia children are convicted by the same law as adults. There is no juvenile law system”, says Pernille Tind Simmons from Dan Church Aid. Through the programme “Securing Children’s Rights in Cambodia,” DCA and their local partners Legal Aid of Cambodia (LAC) and Lichardo, DCA try to make sure the children get a fair trial.
Punishments in Cambodia are hard. “According to the law the minimum punishment is two years. But this is not very common. The judges often give between five and twenty years for anything which involve more than one child”, she says. This is because Cambodia distinguish between stealing and rubbery, Mr Touch Chiva who is Head of the Juvenile Litigation Project in Legal Aid of Cambodia (LAC).
“If there is more than one person involved, then it is rubbery. Then the punishment is a lot harder”, he says. LAC represents children in court for free and help contacting their families. They also make an effort to find the children’s personal documents. The Minimum age of criminal responsibility is 13 years. “But many of the children have lost their birth certificates or have never had one,” Mr. Touch Chiva says.
The project Securing Children’s Rights in Cambodia has been running since 2004. “So far Legal Aid of Cambodia has been very successful”, says Pernille Tind Simmons. “I have met children who were innocent and they would have ended up in jail if they had not been presented by LAC and proven innocent. Other children might have gotten a lower punishment. Instead of 20 years they might only get ten or something, which is somehow fair. In a Cambodian context”, she ads.
In CC2 prison there are about 300 children. It is the only prison in Cambodia where woman and children are separated from adult men. “Most of the children here are charged with robbery or theft or for fighting which each other in the villages”, says Mr. Touch Chiva.
Many of the children come from a background with few resources. “On of the boys we are tying to help come from a family of seven. The farther is in Vietnam for work and he is paid in Rice. The mother is an Alcoholic”, says Mr. Chiva. “He doesn’t know how old he is and we cannot find his birth certificate.”
Pernille Tind Simmons agrees. “Poverty is a terrible thing. Many of the parents have to pressure their children into earning money. Then it is tempting to try to take back a little extra for the family. Some of them have run away from home. They are easy targets for the police,” she says. “The reality is that when there are no resources in a country it is easy to put poor people in jail because they don’t have a strong voice. Nobody complaints,” she says.
“The police are under pressure to get a confession as soon as possible, so they can show society, that they are doing something to fight crime. Sometimes they get it by pushing and hitting or intimidating in other ways. Other times they tell the child that if you say this then you will not end up in prison,” she explains.
But the children do end up in prison. Because there are no alternatives in Cambodia. “If a child is proven guilty they don’t have any other options at this time. I think it is important to find some alternatives to the prison system”, she says.
DCA has together with Unicef facilitated two national workshops on Juvenile Justice resulting in a list of recommendations for the juvenile justice system. The Ministry of Justice and Unicef has drafted a juvenile justice law. “It is a very ambitious and it is a good law. If it is accepted is the next question,” says Pernille Tind Simmons. “In the process we can hope to get alternatives to prisons.
We enter the prison from a small guarded door in the thick surrounding wall. In the middle there is a basked ball court. Women dressed in blue peaks at us from the barracks on either side. Behind it there are more barracks separated from the women’s area by a fence. This is where the children live. “The cells are around 15m2 for 30 people,” Says Mr. Chiva.
In each corner of the wall surrounding the total area there is a tower with a roof. As taken out of a Lucky Look cartoon. The six boys we met on arrival sit with their backs to the fence. They are accused of stealing a necklace. If they are unlucky they will have to stay there for the next 20 years. Mr. Touch Chiva explains. If they are lucky they might be let out after ten or five.