Saturday, July 7, 2012

Child in conflict with the law gets a second chance

Dara (Name changed) at work at the garage.
© UNICEF Cambodia/Sanoz Lim
In a busy garage in Battambang, north-east Cambodia, Dara*, 21, works diligently scrubbing down the front left wing of a vehicle. In deep concentration he brushes away any surface residue with his hands to prepare the wing for painting.

“I’m really happy now,” states Dara as he recalls his past. “But this isn’t the way my life has always been.”

In 2000, Dara dropped out of school to work with his grandfather in the rice field. With seven brothers, he was the second of his siblings to drop out of school at grade four. Following the death of his mother in 2007 when she miscarried with twin baby girls, Dara was frequently beaten by his father.

In late 2007, Dara’s life took a turn for the worse when he sought refuge in a local gang who became his second family. Whilst in the gang, he was lured into carrying out petty crimes that resulted in him serving a four month sentence in Battambang Prison for stealing a television in his village of Ta Tok, Mong Russey District, when he was 17 years old.

Reintegrating young people back into society
Dara prepares a front wing for painting.
© UNICEF Cambodia/Sanoz Lim
During his short time in prison, Dara was approached by Legal Aid of Cambodia (LAC), a non-governmental organization, to participate in their Juvenile Justice Programme. This Programme, financially and technically supported by UNICEF, provides post-release support services to children in conflict with the law to enable their successful transition into the community and prevent them from re-offending. The programme aims to reintegrate children into the community through life-skills training comprising communication and behaviour skills; child rights training and civic education; vocational training (including painting and mechanical repairs) and social support services.  LAC further collaborates with the police and justice system to consider alternatives to judicial proceedings for children who commit minor offences.
After receiving counselling and obtaining vocational skills training through the programme, Dara secured a job at a local garage in Battambang Town, where he has been painting cars for the last four years and staying on the right side of the law.

“I’m now a skilful automotive painter and can earn $150 per month,” says Dara with enthusiasm. “I am able to support my younger brothers through school and buy their school uniforms, books and pens.”

The garage owner, Chan Bunnaro, who provides Dara with three meals a day and a place to live at the garage, regards him as hardworking, reliable and honest.

“So far, I’ve provided training in repairing all kinds of vehicles to about 30 young boys who have been in contact with the law as well as former drug addicts. I want to train more boys and have them working in my garage as more vehicles need repairing on a daily basis,” Chan added whilst watching Dara carefully paint a car.
Ms. Sean Sophat, Legal Aid of Cambodia, Project Officer.
© UNICEF Cambodia/Sanoz Lim
Children at risk

“Poor families in Cambodia live in strenuous circumstances and their children are at risk of becoming involved in petty crime. The root of the problem is poverty and the children who make mistakes deserve another chance in life,” explains Legal Aid of Cambodia project officer, Sean Sophat.

For Dara, getting a second chance means he can now make plans for his future.

“I’ve been offered a new job as a Manager at a different garage and will have the opportunity to earn extra money and there’s a lot more work,” said Dara excitedly.

*Name changed to protect child’s identity

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