Foreign-run orphanage closed after reports of abuse, human trafficking

25 March 2013 - 16:47
By Sapa-AP

Cambodian authorities said Monday they had shut a foreign-run orphanage that is suspected of beating its children and carrying out human trafficking.

Officials and a rights group said police in the capital, Phnom Penh, on Friday raided the unlicensed orphanage, called Love in Action, and rescued 21 children.

Gratianne Quade, a spokeswoman for SISHA, an anti-trafficking organization in Cambodia, said an Australian woman who ran the orphanage was not arrested in the Friday raid and her current whereabouts were not known.

Poverty compels many parents in Cambodia to send their children to orphanages. SISHA estimates that 70% of Cambodia's 100 000 orphans actually have at least one parent.

Um Sophanara, an official at the Social Affairs Ministry, which oversees orphanages, confirmed the closure but declined to give details. A SISHA statement said the raid came after several groups of children had fled the orphanage recently and reported a variety of neglect and abuse problems to authorities.

"The shutdown is a massive step forward, demonstrating the Cambodian government's increased capacity to deal with abusive orphanages," SISHA said, adding that its Australian owner was under investigation for human trafficking, child abuse, neglect and running an unregistered orphanage.

An investigation found "the food standards were subpar, some children were visibly ill and not taken to a doctor, the facility was dirty, sewage was blocked, and the living quarters were overcrowded," the SISHA statement said, adding that interviews with children revealed "many instances of physical abuse from the staff."

Love in Action's website describes it as a Christian-run facility that receives funding from church groups in Australia.

Separately, the 36-year-old director of an orphanage in northwestern Siem Reap province was arrested Friday for repeatedly sexually abusing two girls, 11 and 12, over a four-month period, police said.

The suspect, Mon Savuth, was detained for the alleged abuse at the Angkor Orphanage & Education Organization, but the center - which cares for 36 children - remains open, said Duong Thavery, a provincial police chief in Siem Reap.