in practice, this is often not the case due to the shortage of pro bono attorneys,71 particularly in rural
areas where rates of pre-trial detention are steadily increasing.72 Furthermore, most lawyers working
in Cambodia reside in Phnom Penh while the majority of cases involving vulnerable people are in the
countryside.73 Most of these individuals do not have the financial means to travel to Phnom Penh and
many pro bono lawyers do not have the resources for transportation.74
IV. HOW CAMBODIA CAN IMPROVE CONDITIONS FOR JUVENILE DETAINEES THROUGH THE
IMPLEMENTATION OF THE NEW JUVENILE JUSTICE LAW
Over the past decade, Cambodia continuously drafted and redrafted its juvenile justice bill without
ratification.75 The law was finally addressed at the 2016 mid-year National Assembly where it was
ratified and promulgated by the King.76 The law focuses on offering alternatives to detention through
diversion, rehabilitation, and social support.77 Deborah Comini, representative to Cambodia for
UNICEF, said she was pleased by the Senate’s ratification because “the draft law is the first measure
of its kind to protect the rights of children in conflict with the law in Cambodia. It focuses on diversion
and training as proper responses to youth criminality rather than punishment.”78
The Juvenile Justice Law makes significant and progressive changes to the current juvenile
system that benefits children who come into conflict with the law. Article 6 of the Juvenile Justice
Law provides for a variety of procedural guarantees, such as the right to refuse to answer questions
without the presence of the lawyer, the right against self-incrimination, the right to be informed of the
charge, the right to have a designated representative, the right to be assisted by a pro bono lawyer at
the earliest possible time, the right to present evidence, the right to cross examine witnesses, and the
right to request bail.79 The new law also provides for other procedures, such as “the presence of a
support person for the child through the criminal justice process and allows children to give evidence
from behind a screen.”80 Regarding the issue of age verification, Article 25 obligates a prosecutor to
undertake a “preliminary investigation as soon as possible in order to ascertain the real age of the
minor” and, if an investigation proves inconclusive as to the age, the prosecutor must “issue [an]
introductory requisition to the investigating judge.”81 The following section will discuss the
implementation of the Juvenile Justice Law as it relates to diversion, alternatives to detention, the
creation of a separate juvenile court and prison, data collection, funding, and cultural norms.
71 Ben Sokhean, Bar Members bemoan low payment for pro bono work, PHNOM PENH POST (Oct. 17, 2017),
https://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/bar-members-bemoan-low-payment-pro-bono-work [hereinafter Sokhean].
72 See generally Rodriguez, supra note 40.
76 Meta & Handley, supra note 31.
77 Zoe Halman, Youth Justice Law ‘due this year’, PHNOM PENH POST (Jan. 6, 2016),
78 Vong Sokheng, Juvenile justice law clears Senate hurdle, PHNOM PENH POST (July 1, 2016),
79 JUV. JUST., supra note 8, art. 6.
80 Martin de Bourmont & Kong Meta, Gaps persist in law protecting kids: UN, PHNOM PENH POST (July 12, 2017),
81 JUV. JUST., supra note 8, art. 25.