A. Diversion/Alternatives to Pre-Trial Detention
The new Juvenile Justice Law makes it clear that pre-trial detention is a “measure of last resort.”82
However, as pre-trial detention and imprisonment for drug offenses increase, it is difficult to ascertain
whether this will happen in practice. While Article 28 and 38 of the Juvenile Justice Law provide for
discretion in authorizing diversion plans for minors who commit petty crimes or misdemeanors,83
there are a lack of alternative measures to detention or imprisonment for juvenile offenders, and the
development of locations to supervise young juveniles is slow.84 Billy Gorter, Executive Director of
This Life Cambodia (TLC), a juvenile rehabilitation NGO, stated that “children should always be
separated from adults in detention facilities and, foremost, provided robust therapeutic interventions
to meet each child’s individual needs.”85 The majority of children who are convicted of a crime are
sentenced to prison with adults or detained alongside adults in drug detention centers.86 These drug
detention centers falsely claim to provide health, education, and recreation services, and are used to
house “undesirables” such as street children.87 In fact, these centers are reputed to have conditions
that “are worse than [what] exist[s] in Cambodian prisons.”88 This includes conditions that Chanlina
experienced such as overcrowding, limited access to food and clean water, shortage of medical care,
and few educational opportunities.89
Diversion to pre-trial detention or imprisonment is also challenging to prevalent social norms in
Khmer rural villages. Informing the public is the first step so that communities can understand the
benefits of diversion plans and alternative sentencing, which is necessary in order to avoid
communities taking punishment into their own hands through mob mentality violence.90 For example,
at the Legal Aid Technical Working Group meeting in November 2017, Chin Malin, spokesman for
the Ministry of Justice, suggested that an alternative sentencing program91 is possible, but is difficult
because it is not accepted by the Cambodian public in general.92 Sowell Chan, a law student, said that
“young people in Cambodia may not receive the forgiveness that they deserve…once those minors
have committed a crime, they are unlikely to be excused no matter how small or serious that crime
is…even after they have been punished.”93 The cultural values concerning forgiveness are discussed
in Section E below.
82 JUV. JUST., supra note 8, art. 39.
83 Id. art. 28, 38.
84 See generally Rodriguez, supra note 40.
85 Meta & Handley, supra note 31.
86 Skin on the Cable, supra note 67, at 6, 75. Article 76 of the new Juvenile Justice Law promotes the establishment of a
Youth Rehabilitation Center but its exact function is still being determined. However, it seems that “children will still be
detained in adult prisons as well” but that “detention officers will receive appropriate training on child psychology, child
welfare and international standards on child rights.” Verstraeten, infra note 99, at 23.
87 Skin on the Cable, supra note 67, at 18, 75.
88 Skin on the Cable, supra note 67, at 20; See also Michael Garcia Bochenek, Children Behind Bars: The Global Overuse
of Detention of Children, HUM. RTS. WATCH (2010), https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2016/children-behind-bars
(explaining that in Cambodia, eight drug detention centers have about 1,000 people at any time, at least one in ten of those
detainees is a child under the age of eighteen).
89 Skin on the Cable, supra note 67, at 20.
90 See generally Rodriguez, supra note 40.
91 Niem Chheng, Jail Alternative Possible, PHNOM PENH POST (Dec. 4, 2017),
http://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/jail-alternative-possible. See also Rodriguez, supra note 40.
92 On November 30, 2017, the UNOCHR along with the Ministry of Justice held a meeting with a variety of justice
stakeholders including legal aid organizations to discuss the drafting of Cambodia’s legal aid policy. See Rodriguez, supra
93 See generally Rodriguez, supra note 40.