Keo Sokuntheavy was convicted Monday of physically abusing her adopted daughter and sentenced in absentia to eight months in prison plus a five-year suspended sentence.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court placed the 8-year-old girl Keo Sokuntheavy was convicted of abusing in the custody of the human rights NGO Licadho.
Kek Galabru, president of Licadho, voiced regret that the sentence was so short and that the majority of it was suspended. “I regret the court’s verdict as [Keo Sokuntheavy] has committed such a serious crime,” she said. “[In the future] she might do it again. Despite the court’s sentence, it is as if she is not guilty at all.”
Judge Bunninh Bunary said the sentence was relatively short because Keo Sokuntheavy seemed contrite. “She used to take care of that child, and she provided her with love. But when she got angry, she could not control herself, and she confessed that,” the judge said after reading the verdict.
Last week, the girl testified that Keo Sokuntheavy beat her almost daily and asked not to be returned to her adoptive mother. Neighbors also testified that the girl had been severely whipped.
Keo Sokuntheavy denied ever whipping the child. She was not well enough to attend the hearing Monday, her attorney, Khiev Sepphan, told the court.
Khiev Sepphan said Keo Sokuntheavy has not decided whether to appeal. She has two months and 15 days to file an appeal.
Police removed the child from Keo Sokuntheavy in February, acting on information from Licadho and another NGO. Doctors examined the girl and found she had fresh injuries, including a 4 cm head wound that required three stitches, a black eye, and bruises on her back, arms, legs and chest. She also had scars from old wounds.
Licadho took custody of the girl, who had been living with Keo Sokuntheavy and her husband for about six months.
Keo Sokuntheavy reacted by filing a complaint against Licadho, accusing the group of illegally confining the child. The court granted Licadho temporary custody of the child until the case could be decided.
“We firmly believe that it is not normal or acceptable for parents or guardians of children to whip them repeatedly with electrical wire, beat them with sticks, kick them to the floor and threaten to kill them,” Kek Galabru said. “This was not a case of a parent imposing some kind of reasonable discipline on a child. This was a case of systematic, prolonged torture of a child.”