A 5-month-old baby being raised in prison by her imprisoned mother died of pneumonia and malnutrition, according to an NGO report, raising concerns over the pretrial detention of pregnant women, use of women in drug trafficking rings, and overcrowded prisons.
Rights group Licadho said in a statement that the mother was put in pretrial detention in the middle of last year, when she was eight months pregnant, for allegedly possessing 10,000 riel ($2.50) worth of methamphetamine.
Licadho said she was not provided a lawyer and was unaware of her right to apply for bail.
The baby suffered a thighbone fracture last month, though the cause is unknown, it said. Prison staff gave her treatment before transferring her to the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital, which in turn moved her to the National Pediatric Hospital, according to the NGO.
The National Pediatric Hospital declined to allow the baby and mother to stay overnight, Licadho said.
The following week, the baby was sent back to the National Pediatric Hospital with a cough and fever. “The doctor saw them only briefly before setting a follow-up appointment for three weeks’ time,” the Licadho statement said.
After returning to Correctional Center 2, the baby struggled to breathe and was rushed to the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital and died after an overnight stay.
“We believe that babies and young children should always be with their mothers, but we do not believe that prison is a safe or healthy environment for them to grow up in,” Licadho said.
A year ago, Prime Minister Hun Sen also asked the Justice and Women’s Affairs ministries to review the situation of women and children in pretrial detention.
Nuth Savna, spokesman for the Interior Ministry’s prisons department, said the case was under investigation, and suggested that the National Pediatric Hospital could face scrutiny.
“If it is as Licadho’s report says, the hospital will also join to respond about this case,” Savna said.
The National Pediatric Hospital could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
“We regret the baby’s death, and we will review and investigate this case to find the truth,” Savna said, acknowledging that the prison was overcrowded.
Correctional Center 2, which is designated for women and children, currently had about 1,800 inmates despite its capacity being only 1,000, Savna said. Licadho said the facility’s official capacity was 350.
Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin said he had received details about the case from Licadho and his ministry would be following up.
“We will additionally review whether it was necessary that the court decided to place her in pretrial detention while she was pregnant,” Malin said.
The courts were already making efforts to quickly resolve cases involving women and minors, but those demographics were also being exploited by drug traffickers, he said.
“Recently, most suspects involved in drug cases are women and minors because drug traffickers and drug ringleaders use women and minors,” he said.