Child Repeatedly Arrested For Drug Trafficking (Photo)

| by Sheena Vasani

Cambodian police say they have twice arrested the same girl, once at age 12 and again at 13, for allegedly working as a drug mule.

Chhay Reaksmey, now age 14, was 12-years-old when she and her father first got into trouble for drug trafficking, the Daily Mail reports.

Authorities arrested her and sent her to a re-education center at the time, but again threw her behind bars when she was about a week away from turning 14 in December 2015, The Phnom Penh Post reports.

Lawyers now argue it is illegal to place Chhay in jail, given that the age of criminal responsibility is 14, which she was not when arrested.

Consequently, they say, she should not face charges and her trial has been postponed.

“We are trying to get the court to clarify her age first, before there is a trial on the drug charge," said So Dara, one of the girl's lawyers. "If she is tried for the charge, the judge may just ignore our complaint to release her. Then we would not win the case."

Seng Live, Chhay's mother, says police recorded the child's 20-year-old sister's age instead of Chhay's when arresting the young teenager.

“I cannot say why the police put her at 20 years of age," said Ouk Vandeth, another of the girl's attorneys. "She is too young to be 20. She still plays with rubber bands."

“If an underage child commits a crime, the state is responsible," he added. "If they destroy other people’s property, the parents are responsible.”

While the reasons for her involvement is unclear, Chhay is one of many Cambodian children involved in drug trafficking, which is usually because of poverty, the International Labor Organization reports.

"Although Cambodia is emerging as one of the brightest economic growth stories of Southeast Asia, over 313,000 children are trapped in the worst forms of exploitation such as drug trafficking and prostitution," says the organization's website.

UNICEF Cambodia spokeswoman Iman Morooka agrees Chhay's arrest is unfair.

"Detention should be the last option in dealing with a child in conflict with the law, and for the shortest period of time," Morooka said. "Due to lack of a juvenile justice law until recently, children who are accused of infringing the penal law have often been treated as adults, and mixed with adults while in detention."

Sources: Daily MailThe Phnom Penh PostInternational Labor Organization / Photo credit: Octavio L/Wikimedia Commons,​ Police Media via Daily Mail

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