measure as the first option for juveniles. Children like Chanlina, who are from impoverished areas,
are especially vulnerable, as their case presents no opportunity for bribery and no way to move at a
According to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, pre-trial detention is an absolute last
resort and, if used, should only last for the shortest appropriate period of time.57 Often, juveniles who
commit petty offenses, or survival crimes, are driven by extreme conditions of poverty and their arrest
results in long periods of detention in breach of international standards and national law.58 In 1999,
juveniles represented 3.3% of the prison population;59 however, that rate steadily increased to 4.1%
in 2016.60 According to the Phnom Penh Post, “in the most recent monitoring period in 2012, almost
92% of juvenile offenders were held in pre-trial detention compared to 71% of adults.”61 Non-custodial sentencing is very rare and most juveniles are convicted and sentenced to prison.62 The
number of children under eighteen in prison increased from 403 in 2005 to nearly 1,050 in 2016.63 A
study conducted by Legal Aid of Cambodia, which interviewed children in prison to gather
information, revealed harsh situations of coerced confessions, bribery, and extortion.64 Cambodia is
in clear violation of international and domestic law prohibitions when officers arbitrarily detain
children without charge or trial and subject them to such horrific conditions.
Once a juvenile is detained, they are not guaranteed legal representation during the first 24–
48 hours of their arrest.65 This is worrisome because Cambodia relies heavily on confession-based
investigation66 and the first 24 hours are a “period of time when mistreatment, rape, and extortion can
take place.”67 Chrolong, a Cambodian juvenile, described in a Human Rights Watch report how he
was arrested while walking at night: “…there was no reason given for [my] arrest.68 They said, “You
stroll in the night; strolling at night is not good…I never saw a lawyer.”69 The Law on Juvenile Justice
affirms a juvenile’s procedural right to be assisted by lawyer at the earliest possible stage.70 However,
56 Id. The possibility of bribery is present at every step of a criminal proceeding in Cambodia. From police officers asking
for bribes from poor defendants to eschew formal charges to bribes paid for bar admission, corruption is endemic in
Cambodia’s judicial system.
57 Convention on the Rights of the Child art. 37(b), Nov. 20, 1989, 1577 U.N. T.S. 3.
58 Ellen Travers, Upholding Children’s Rights in the Judicial System: An NGO’s Experience of Working for Juvenile
Justice in Cambodia, EFFECTIVE JUST. SOLUTIONS 1, 2 (2011),
59 Roderic Broadhurst, Thierry Bonjours, & Chenda Keo, Crime and Justice in Cambodia, HANDBOOK OF ASIAN
CRIMINOLOGY 174 (Jianhong Liu, Susyan Jou, & Bill Hebenton eds., 2013).
60 World Prison Brief Data, supra note 32.
61 Laignee Barron, Juvenile Detention Rate Alarming, PHNOM PENH POST (Oct. 28, 2014),
62A Measure of Last Resort, supra note 49, at 40.
63 Ferraro, supra note 52. See also World Prison Brief Data, supra note 32.
64 Of those 93 children interviewed in the study, 74% were not given any reason for their arrest, none of them had a social
worker or parent present during police questioning, nearly 50% claimed to have been beaten by the police and some were
even asked to pay bribes. A Measure of Last Resort, supra note 49, at 44–45.
65 Id. at 36.
66 Travers, supra note 58, at 4.
67 ‘Skin on the Cable,’ The Illegal Arrest, Arbitrary Detention and Torture of People Who Use Drugs in Cambodia, HUM.
RTS. WATCH 1, 32 (Jan. 2010), https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/cambodia0110webwcover.pdf [hereinafter
Skin on the Cable].
68 Id. at 27.
70 JUV. JUST., supra note 8, art. 6.