This Life Cambodia has spent many years working within Cambodia’s prison system, and with families where members are in conflict with the law. One problem we have observed over the years, and which many families have raised with us as something which needs to be addressed, is the fact that some people in conflict with the law have young children in their care. In particular, there was concern that very young children who accompany their mothers to prison are at risk of being institutionalised, with all the damage to their later development that this can cause.
Internationally, there is a lack of knowledge around why children accompany mothers to prisons, and the need for increased protections as a result. In Cambodia, a lot of work is being done around reintegrating children from residential care institutions. However, children accompanying their mothers to prison remain invisible in this broader process. As such, we wanted to take the opportunity to shed light on this important issue.
Our Deputy Director, Se Chhin, recently wrote a compelling piece for the Phnom Penh Post on children accompanying their mothers to prison and the need for diversionary measures as an alternative response (you can read it here).
His views were based off recent research conducted by This Life Cambodia’s Community Research and Consultancy Program (CRCP). This research was funded by the GHR Foundation and aims to provide insight into the causes underlying a mother’s decision to have her child/ren accompany her to prison. In Cambodia, children can accompany their mother to prison up until the age of three, but how decisions are made as to whether a child accompanies their mother or not, is not always clear.
We interviewed 36 women at Siem Reap prison as part of this research and found that a range of personal and external factors impacted their decision-making processes. We also found that best practice internationally promotes diversionary measures as the most appropriate option for mothers in conflict with the law. This is especially the case where a minor offence has been committed and there are other extenuating circumstances. Where diversionary measures are not possible, child-friendly spaces and/or programs that align with international standards need to be in place.
By uncovering some of these influencing factors and considering alternative options for care or sentencing, women in conflict with the law can be better supported to make informed decisions that are in the best interests of their child.