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Breaking New Ground: This Life and Cambodia’s Historic Leap Forward in Juvenile Justice Reform

by Surya Narayan
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This remarkable story of This Life’s achievement in Cambodia, in collaboration with the Royal Government of Cambodia, marks a significant milestone in the field of juvenile justice and child rights. The successful implementation of diversion orders for the first time in Cambodia’s history, aiding four children to avoid criminal records, represents a transformative moment in justice reform. This initiative highlights the importance of alternative approaches over imprisonment for minor offenses, emphasizing rehabilitation and community support.

This Life’s advocacy and efforts, starting with their program in 2009, have been instrumental in bringing about this change. Their program, This Life Beyond Bars, has effectively reduced recidivism rates and offered vital support to children in prison, including vocational training and counseling. The collaboration with government stakeholders and the release of the groundbreaking research report in 2021, “No Place For A Child” were critical steps in advocating for non-custodial measures.

In a significant development for juvenile justice in Cambodia, November 2022 saw a groundbreaking moment when a Siem Reap judge approved diversion orders for four young individuals, aged 14 to 17, accused of theft. These youths, who were in pre-trial detention, were enrolled in the innovative This Life Without Bars program, thanks to a referral from MoSVY’s social agent.

The program, a blend of community service, life skills training, counseling, education, and family mediation, was tailored to each child’s needs. It emphasized rehabilitation and personal growth, setting conditions for the children to avoid further offences, engage regularly with social agents, and uphold respect within their families and communities.

A unique aspect of this initiative was the inclusion of vocational training through This Life’s Edith House program. Catering to diverse interests, from mechanics to hairdressing, this program offered not just skill development but also holistic support, including social worker assistance, personalized development plans, and drug counseling. It proved vital, especially for one participant who had previously dropped out of school, helping them acquire valuable vocational skills and guiding them towards employment or entrepreneurship.

The remarkable news is that all four children have now completed their diversion orders, as officially confirmed by the judge. This achievement effectively wipes their criminal records clean, paving the way for a hopeful future. Their success underscores their resolve and the positive impact of the diversion program. This innovative collaboration between This Life and the Cambodian judicial system represents a significant move towards a more rehabilitative and supportive form of justice for young individuals, opening new doors and opportunities for many in the years to come.

“Today marks a landmark achievement in the journey towards a more compassionate and effective juvenile justice system in Cambodia. I want to extend my deepest gratitude to the Royal Government of Cambodia for their visionary leadership and steadfast commitment to reforming our approach to juvenile justice. Their willingness to embrace diversion as an alternative to imprisonment has set a precedent that will positively impact the lives of countless children.

I would also like to express my heartfelt thanks to our donors, whose generous support has been the backbone of our endeavors. Their belief in our mission has been a source of strength and inspiration. Lastly, I must commend the dedication and tireless efforts of our employees at This Life. Their unwavering dedication and deep commitment to the children we serve have been the driving force behind this historic achievement.

Together, we have not only changed individual lives but have also sown the seeds for a more just and empathetic society for all children in Cambodia.” – Billy Gorter, Founder and Executive Director, This Life

This success story from Siem Reap has the potential to inspire other provinces in Cambodia to adopt similar measures. It emphasizes that every child deserves a chance for a better future and that diversion can play a crucial role in achieving this goal.

Join the Cause: To support This Life Cambodia’s initiatives and learn more about their impact, visit www.thislife.ngo. The organization invites engagement through its website, social media, and newsletters, urging public support and awareness to continue their transformative work.

The support of the donor community has been vital in making these achievements possible, and ongoing support is crucial for the continuation and expansion of such programs. This Life’s commitment to justice reform and child rights in Cambodia is a shining example of how dedicated efforts can lead to significant positive changes in society.

This initiative is not just a step forward for the children involved but a giant leap for justice reform and child rights in Cambodia. It’s a story of hope, change, and the power of collaborative effort, and it’s a story that needs to be shared and celebrated.

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