The justice system
© UNICEF Cambodia/Nicolas Axelrod
Cambodia is now at peace and making steady progress in its development efforts. Yet its capacity to protect children who come into contact with the law is among the least developed in the region. With only 296 judges and prosecutors, many of whom have still not received legal training, and 500 lawyers for the entire country, progress remains slow and challenging.
Limited job prospects for the almost half a million young people who enter the work force each year propel many children into illegal and exploitative labour, where they become victims of crime. Meanwhile, a lack of family and social support drive many children to live on the streets and to increasing levels of adolescent risk behaviours such as drug abuse, sex work, gang violence and involvement in criminal activities.
As a result, more children are coming into conflict with the nascent criminal justice system, where the number of minors in detention is gradually growing each year. In 2009, an estimated 826 children were in detention across the country, compared to 630 and 493 children in 2007 and 2006, respectively.
Children who come into contact with the law as victims, witnesses or offenders find themselves in a justice system that is ill-equipped to respond to their needs. Limited laws and low capacity among criminal justice authorities to handle cases involving children, in addition to a cultural context in which crime is narrowly viewed with a focus on retribution and punishment, rather than restorative justice, only amplifies vulnerabilities for children.
Children in detention are frequently sentenced as adults and the vast majority never meet with a lawyer before their trial. They are generally held in adult prisons with limited or no access to rehabilitation or educational support. Approximately half of them are being held on pre-trial detention, often beyond the legal limit of two months. Behind bars, these children face poor living conditions and are susceptible to violence and abuse, including sexual abuse and exploitation.
As diversion of children in conflict with the law is not provided for, the current system does not encourage the use of alternatives to imprisonment. As for recovery and reintegration of children who are in conflict with the law, the system lacks specialized trained staff available for case management of the children.
UNICEF promotes the building of partnerships to develop a child-friendly justice system that prioritizes and addresses children’s needs as victims, witnesses or offenders. UNICEF coordinates with a range of donors, UN agencies, embassies, and non-governmental organizations who work together to support the Cambodian government to establish a justice system for children that prioritizes and respects children’s rights.
© UNICEF Cambodia/Nicolas Axelrod
What we do
- Strengthen government capacities and structures at the national and local levels to coordinate, refer, and deliver services for children in contact with the law.
- Strengthen monitoring and reporting of children within the justice system.
- Assist the government to build the capacity of police, lawyers, prosecutors, judges and social workers to support children in contact with the law.
- Support the government to adopt and advance the draft Juvenile Justice Law and other legislation related to child protection and their enforcement mechanisms.
- Advocate for diversion and restorative justice for children in conflict with the law.
- Strengthen and expand community-based programmes and mechanisms for prevention, diversion, and restorative justice for children at-risk and in conflict with the law.
- Support the government to enhance its performance in reporting on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, its two Optional Protocols, and other international treaties related to child protection, and effectively respond to concluding observations.
Children in contact with the law are increasingly protected by Cambodia’s criminal justice system in accordance with international standards. More children in contact with the law have their rights respected as a result of broader and better regulations, including a draft Juvenile Justice Law, and training and awareness among key stakeholders in child justice issues.
Around 300 child victims of abuse and exploitation annually have been rescued and assisted by trained specialist police in all provinces. More than 230 judges and prosecutors in all provinces have been trained in international standards on justice for children and child sensitivity in the courtroom, and more than 1,000 at-risk youth and children involved in petty offences have received life skills training and social service support that diverted them away from delinquency and from the formal justice system. Improved case management, rehabilitation and reintegration have reached nearly all children in government-run youth rehabilitation centres and correction facilities in four provinces.