Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Justice system failing child victims: experts

Justice system failing child victims: experts

A nine-year-old rape victim waits in a Battambang province police station last month.
A nine-year-old rape victim waits in a Battambang province police station last month. Athena Zelandonii

Justice system failing child victims: experts

Cambodia’s justice system often fails to support children who are victims of and witnesses to crime, many of whom are so terrified to appear in court that they’re unable to give testimony, children’s rights experts said yesterday.

“When children are abused, they often respond by repressing and fragmenting memories,” Micaela Cronin, CEO of Hagar International, said during the launch of a new guide to train lawyers and caregivers working with child witnesses and victims. “That’s why it’s so important that people working in the justice system be sensitive to children.”

The new guide, released by Hagar and UNICEF, aims to give adults in Cambodia the tools to protect and communicate with children in a justice system that can often increase the stress of traumatised children.

Children are occasionally transported to trial in the same vehicles or made to wait in the same room as their abuser, experts said.

Meanwhile, overworked lawyers often forget that children have the right to ask for a screen to block them from seeing their abuser, or to speak through video technology instead of being present in the courtroom, explained Debora Petworth, a juvenile law expert with Hagar.

Demanding these rights be protected is part of the lawyer’s responsibility, Petworth said. But many lawyers say the video technology is unavailable in provincial courts as they don’t have the extra rooms in which to set it up, or because officials don’t understand the technology.

But Appeals Court prosecutor Tan Senarong said the negligence can’t be blamed on a lack of technical skills. “That’s just an excuse,” Senarong said. “It’s as easy as operating an iPhone.”

Asked whether the higher courts could pressure provincial courts to begin offering the video option to children, Senarong said the Ministry of Justice could “take action” if a complaint were made in writing.

But some experts say the government has done little to ensure the technology is available.

“Anecdotally, this [screens and video technology] doesn’t seem to be offered very often,” said Billy Tai, a legal analyst in Cambodia. “And I haven’t seen any push on the part of the government to enforce this.”

Members of UNICEF say they hope the new guidelines will help address these issues.

“We want these guidelines to be mainstream in the Cambodian justice system,” said Debora Comini, Cambodia’s UNICEF director.

MOST VIEWED

  • Cambodia maintains 'Kun Khmer' stance despite Thailand’s boycott threat

    Cambodia has taken the position that it will use the term "Kun Khmer" to refer to the sport of kickboxing at the upcoming Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, and has removed the term Muay from all references to the sport. Despite strong reactions from the Thai

  • Artificial insemination takes herd from 7 to 700

    Some farms breed local cows or even import bulls from a broad for the purpose of breeding heavier livestock for meat production. One Tbong Khnum farmer has found a more efficient way. Hout Leang employs artificial insemination to fertilise local cows. Thanks to imported “straws”

  • Chinese group tours return to Cambodia starting Feb 6

    Cambodia is among 20 countries selected by Beijing for a pilot programme allowing travel agencies to provide international group tours as well as flight and hotel packages to Chinese citizens, following a three-year ban. As the days tick down until the programme kicks off on February 6,

  • Capital-Poipet express rail project making headway

    The preliminary results of a feasibility study to upgrade the Phnom Penh-Poipet railway into Cambodia’s first express railway indicate that the project would cost more than $4 billion and would take around four years to complete. The study was carried out by China Road and

  • Thai boxers to join SEA Games’ Kun Khmer event

    The Cambodian SEA Games Organising Committee (CAMSOC) – together with the Kun Khmer International Federation (KKIF) and Khmer Boxing Federation – have achieved a “great success” by including Kun Khmer in the upcoming biennial multi-sports event on its home soil for the first time, said a senior

  • Bullets to bracelets: Siem Reap man makes waste from war wearable

    Jewellery is often made from valuable gemstones like emeralds or diamonds and precious metals like gold or silver, or valueless things like animal horns. But a man in Siem Reap has approached the manufacture of delicate pieces from a different angle. His unique form of