This Life Beyond Bars
Cambodia does not have a juvenile justice system. Children aged 14-18 are tried in the adult criminal justice system and are subsequently detained and imprisoned in adult prisons. Approximately 95 children are held in Siem Reap prison where numerous issues threaten their rights, despite Cambodian and international laws to the contrary.
Approximately 1362 adults are confined in Siem Reap prison leaving an untold number of children in Siem Reap province facing social stigma, financial instability and threats to their education.
Human Rights organisations describe Cambodia’s legal justice system as failing to uphold the rule of law. The impact of an arbitrary justice system is all the more acute when looking at the conditions for prisoners in Cambodia. Those with money or influential connections tend not to end up in prison; generally prison populations comprise the poor and vulnerable.
And what of the families and children left behind when a family member enters the prison system through an inefficient and arbitrary legal system? Already vulnerable families face financial instability and material hardship, instability in family relationships and structure, school behaviour and performance problems, shame and social and institutional stigma.
The Cambodian Government has a limited budget and prisons are a low priority. Accordingly, prisoners face appalling living conditions which are thoroughly documented by research conducted by LICADHO. All aspects of living conditions in the prisons – food, water, sanitation and space – are so poor that they are difficult to imagine. Having family visits and support can be an essential component to survival in prison. However LICADHO describes the problems faced for visitors in a recent report: According to Prison Procedure No 8, Article 4.1 (n), “the collection of goods or money from visitors by any prison official for the privilege of visiting a prisoner is expressly forbidden.” Also, “all prisoners have the right to receive visits from families or friends for at least one hour each week at times designated in the prison rules by the prison chief.” These rules, however, are completely ignored. Corruption is rife within prisons. In previous reports LICADHO has documented how money is collected by guards at several points as visitors enter the prison. Considering that many prisoners are from poor families, this corruption is a significant disincentive to relatives trying to make contact and assist the prisoner.”
Children who come into conflict with the law are generally the poorest and most vulnerable, and are detained for petty offenses, including the stealing of small amounts of food. The prison itself does not provide education services and only provides limited access to health services. Many human rights organisations have documented the terrible conditions these children face in the prison system without access to proper food, water or protection from abuse.
It is also not uncommon for children up to the age of 6 or 7 to accompany their mothers into prison or for women to give birth while incarcerated. Children reside with their mother in prison if she determines that the safest option for that child is to be in prison with her. These women and children are routinely denied access to suitable healthcare, adequate nutrition, education, and other basic human rights. They are also vulnerable to abuse.
Following the request of community members we work with, This Life Cambodia began researching the educational opportunities for children affected by the justice system in February 2009. Through extensive and thorough research, This Life Beyond Bars was developed, a sustainable program through community participation and ownership.
To bring together individuals, families, communities and existing sub-national mechanisms to create awareness, knowledge and the capability to work together to take sustainable action on issues relating to the criminal justice system.
- Increase access to education for children in prison.
- Increase the resilience of families affected by the criminal justice system.
- Strengthen the connection between local government mechanisms and the community regarding issues related to criminal justice.
To learn more about the This Life Beyond Bars project areas, please follow the links below: