The Cambodian government will pardon 16 female convicts who are either pregnant or recently had children in prison before March 8, as part of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s drive to end the culture of children living with their mothers behind bars, a justice ministry official said.
Kim Santepheap, the justice ministry’s spokesman, told RFA that 15 of the 16 convicts already have children living with them in jail and one is pregnant.
“This is the first trial [for the early releases], and the ministry will continue to look for women who have not yet been convicted,” he said.
The justice ministry approved the 16 who were part of a group of 40 inmates who applied for early release before International Women’s Day on March 8.
The ministry will check to find more women to issue pardons to before the Cambodian New Year in April, he said, according to an article in The Cambodia Daily.
Kim Santepheap said the committee that selected the women picked only those 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, it said.
In the future, the ministry could consider releasing women who are being held temporarily before they go to trial and those released on bail, Kim Santepheap said. If such women happened to be sentenced, then their jail terms subsequently could be suspended.
Permission from the king
The justice ministry will send a report to Hun Sen to request permission from King Norodom Sihamoni to issue a sub-decree that will grant pardons to the 16 inmates, as only the monarch has the authority to grant such requests.
Hun Sen said Monday that his government would seek the pardon and release of female convicts who were pregnant or had children living with them inside prisons, following a Feb. 15 report by the national human rights group Licadho, which took authorities to task for neglecting children behind bars.
He called for ending the “culture of having children live with their mothers inside jail” during a graduation ceremony in the capital Phnom Penh.
Pung Chhiv Kek, Licadho’s founder, applauded the move when it was announced earlier this week, calling it a “good idea.”
But Nou Sam An, the group’s prison project supervisor, told The Cambodia Daily on Thursday that granting pardons was not a viable, long-term solution for the inmates.
Reported by Sochi Vi for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.