Prime Minister Hun Sen has called on the ministries of justice and the interior to come up with a long-term solution to female inmates in Cambodian prisons who are pregnant or have children living with them behind bars, as police stopped women and other land activists in the capital from demanding the release of 11 jailed female land rights activists.
Hun Sen issued the call when he ordered the release of 22 such female inmates on Sunday—International Women’s Day—after King Norodom Sihamoni had pardoned them.
“This is very unfortunate for children to live in prison; however, we are only a few people, so I urge to women not to breach any laws to avoid any detention,” Hun Sen said, referring to women arrested for crimes who may get pregnant to avoid detention.
“I also urged the ministries of the interior and justice to discuss among themselves a longer-term solution,” he said.
When Hun Sen called on the two ministries to work together on a solution to the problem, he cautioned authorities not to arrest and release women who have children or who are pregnant, because this would indicate a flaw in the law.
“If we continue to release the women, it is a bias, and criminals can use chance to use women who are pregnant and have children to commit crimes,” Hun Sen said.
Hun Sen also noted that children who are inside prisons don’t receive adequate food and live in miserable conditions.
There are 40 female inmates in Cambodia’s 28 prisons who have children living with them behind bars and more than 20 who are pregnant, according to the justice ministry.
Prodded by a report
Hun Sen made the move after the national human rights group Licadho issued a report on Feb. 15, which took authorities to task for neglecting children behind bars.
He then called for ending the “culture of having children live with their mothers inside jail.”
A committee in the justice ministry picked for early release only women who already had served two-thirds of their sentences, but did not provide further details about the conditions they had to meet or the crimes they had committed, the report said.
Throughout the country’s 28 prisons, the ministry found more than 20 pregnant inmates and more than 40 women with children.
Kim Santepheap, the justice ministry’s spokesman, previously told RFA that the ministry could consider releasing women who are being held temporarily before they go to trial and those released on bail. And if such women happened to be sentenced, then their jail terms subsequently could be suspended.
The ministry would check to find more women to issue pardons to before the Cambodian New Year in April, he told The Cambodia Daily last month.
While Hun Sen announced the release of the female prisoners, about 200 activists and monks gathered in front of the women’s affairs ministry to demand that the government respect women rights and release the 12 activists—11 of whom are women—being detained for their involvement in land disputes related to the Boeung Kak development project in the Cambodian capital.
The land activists argue that the project backed by a lawmaker from Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodia People’s Party has caused flooding in the community.
Police in the capital’s Dangkao district on Sunday confiscated fake coffins, symbolizing the death of women’s rights, from land activists as they marched to the women’s affairs ministry.
Hun Sen last week said he would not request pardons for 11 female Boeung Kak activists, rejecting a public statement from 30 civil society organizations calling on the government to release the women, and one monk, who the activists said were merely exercising their rights.
Reported by Keo Nimol for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.