Cambodia Seeks to Pardon Women in Jail with Children

cambodia-jailed-woman-and-child-june1-2010.jpg A representative of Cambodia's director general of prisons department offers food to a female inmate and her baby at Prey Sar prison in Phnom Penh in a file photo.

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen said Monday that his government will seek the pardon and release of female convicts who are pregnant or have children living with them inside prisons, following a report by a human rights group which took authorities to task for neglecting children behind bars.

Hun Sen called for ending the “culture of having children live with their mothers inside jail” during a graduation ceremony on Monday in the capital Phnom Penh. He said he would like to see the incarcerated women be pardoned by International Women’s Day on March 8 or by the Cambodian New Year in April.

“We will pardon those women who have children living inside prisons and those who are pregnant,” he said.  “We will try to finish the process before Khmer New Year. We won’t allow any women who have children or are pregnant inside jails anymore.”

Pung Chhiv Kek, founder of the national human rights group Licadho, which issued the report on Feb. 15, applauded the move.

“We don’t want to see any children living inside prisons,” she told RFA’s Khmer Service.” This is a good idea, especially for the prime minister who doesn’t want to see children inside prisons.”

She said pardons would not be granted to women whose trials had not yet been held.  

Report gauges damage to children

Hun Sen’s comments came on the heels of Licadho’s second report in a series of case studies assessing the impact that prison life has on children.

As of January, 39 children between the ages of one month and four years were behind bars with their mothers in 18 prisons the group monitors, Licadho said in a related news release. About half of them were born in prison.

The report emphasizes the importance of putting special measures in place when children live with their mothers in prison.

It focuses on a boy named Dara who was born after his mother’s arrest and locked up with her in a hot, over-crowded cell without appropriate recreation facilities.

Dara’s parents and the woman he identifies as his grandmother are serving sentences for murdering his grandfather, the report said.

While he was in prison, Dara’s mother beat him, he suffered from mental health problems, and he was hospitalized twice after not receiving timely treatment in prison.

The boy lived with his mother in Takhmao prison on the outskirts of Phnom Penh until he was more than three-and-a-half years old. Now he is roughly five years old, but can say only a few words, Licadho said.

“Prison authorities have to closely monitor children in prison and establish special safeguards to respond to their needs and security,” said Nou Sam An, Licadho’s prison supervisor, in a news release.  “Interventions that simply perpetuate the cycle of violence are wholly inappropriate, counterproductive and harmful.”

Licadho supports efforts to keep newborns and small children with their detained mothers in Cambodian prisons, but believes the children should only remain there after a comprehensive, individual assessment which takes into account benefits and risks.

Cambodia’s 2011 prison law stipulates that only children under the age of three can remain with their imprisoned mothers.

Shirking responsibilities to children

The Licadho report says Cambodian authorities have not adopted any of its recommendations.

It noted that the country’s General Department of Prisons and the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, which should be responsible for conducting assessments of appropriate custodianship and the safe removal of children from prison, shirk their responsibilities towards children currently in prison.

Licadho’s first report, issued in 2013 was about a boy named Sokun who lived with his mother in Phnom Pehn’s Correctional Center 2 until he was nearly seven years old.

The report concluded that while the boy had a positive opportunity to bond with his mother in prison, Cambodian authorities should have done more to put special measures in place to protect him from any harmful impacts.

Hun Sen also said he would not tolerate any women who falsely claimed they had children inside jail and warned people against attempts to use women with babies to smuggle drugs once the women had been released from prison.

Reported by Morm Moniroth of RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.


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