Monday, September 19, 2016

Q&A on the newly adopted Juvenile Justice Law in Cambodia

©UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Luis Barreto

Cambodia has taken an important step towards realizing the rights of children in conflict with the law by adopting a long-awaited new legislation that focuses on ‘diversion’ rather than punishment. In this quick Q&A we explain the new direction this law will be introducing in the country in the area of juvenile justice and what this means for children.

The new law was signed by Royal Proclamation on 14 July 2016 and comes into force six months after dissemination, which is likely to be in early January 2017.

Q: What does juvenile justice mean and what was the situation that needed to be addressed in Cambodia?

Children in conflict with the law, referring to children who are suspects of or accused of committing offenses, like all children, have rights that are enshrined by the Convention on the Rights of the Child- to which Cambodia is a signatory. According to the Convention, children in conflict with the law should be treated in accordance with their age, and taking into account their reintegration into society. They should be treated in a dignified manner, while at the same time reinforcing their respect for the fundamental freedoms and human rights of others.

In Cambodia, children can be held responsible for infringing the criminal code from 14 years old. However due to lack of a juvenile justice law, children who are accused of infringing the penal law are usually treated as adults, and mixed with adults while in detention, contrary to the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
But positive change has been made in Cambodia as the country recently approved the juvenile justice law.

Q: What is the new juvenile justice law about and why is it so important?

The adoption of a juvenile justice law is critical towards building a separate juvenile justice system which guarantees the respect of the rights of children in the justice process and ensures they are treated in a way that is adapted to their age. It was crucial for Cambodia to have the new law approved in order to comply with the principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child while dealing with children in conflict with the law.

To this end, UNICEF and partners have been advocating with and supporting the Government of Cambodia for many years in the drafting of this law, which we believe, once enforced, will be a major milestone towards realizing the rights of children in conflict with the law.  What is particularly important about this new law is that it focuses on diversion and restorative justice as the main course of action, rather than punishment.

Many organizations have contributed to the design of the new law, including, Legal Aid Cambodia, Every Child Cambodia, Plan International, Save the Children, World Vision, the NGO Coalition for Child Rights (NGOCRC), Child Rights International, other international NGOs, the Office of Drugs and Crime, the Office of the High Commission of Human Rights and UNICEF This important reform was made possible by the leadership provided by the Ministry of Social Affairs Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation and the Ministry of Justice.

Q: What is diversion and why have child rights organizations been advocating for it?

The juvenile justice law is the first measure of its kind in Cambodia to protect the rights of children in conflict with the law by focusing on diversion as the proper response to youth criminality. Diversion allows children to find a way to rehabilitation by keeping strong links with their families and communities, thus reducing the likelihood of future acts of criminality while also protecting children.

Article 40 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child makes reference to diversion as the desirable course of action stating that whenever appropriate, measures that do not involve resorting to judicial proceedings should be pursued. Examples of such measures are: care, guidance and supervision orders; counselling; probation; foster care; education and vocational training programmes to ensure that children are dealt with in a manner appropriate to their well-being and proportionate both to their circumstances and the offence.

Focusing on punishment actually increases the likelihood that a child will sink into criminality and re-offend, as enduring the arrest and court proceedings can traumatize a child.

Q: Now that there’s a new law, what comes next?

The new law must be properly implemented so that it actually benefits children. UNICEF has proposed to the Government of Cambodia to hold a consultative process involving the concerned ministries and NGOs to work on the development of a three-year implementation plan that will detail necessary next steps for the implementation of the law.   

This plan may include various reforms. In the short-term it will be important to address the urgent situation of children in prisons, and provide training to concerned community members and legal actors. In the mid-term considerations can be given to training the police, judges, and prosecutors, while developing effective diversion programmes and strengthening training schools and rehabilitation centres. In the long-term, the establishment specialized courts for juvenile justice can be considered. There are various actions that need to be taken within the framework of the new law, and we believe an implementation plan involving key actors would be critical to take this work forward.

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