Police and anti-trafficking NGO Sisha released a joint statement Wednesday that sought to bring together their conflicting accounts of an operation that removed 21 children from a Christian-run orphanage in Phnom Penh on Friday.
On Friday, Sisha (Southeast Asia Investigations into Social and Humanitarian Activities) released a statement saying that police had raided the Love in Action (LIA) orphanage in Meanchey district’s Boeng Tompun commune and shut it down because of reports of abuse and poor living conditions.
Sisha also said the center’s founder, 71-year-old Australian Ruth Golder, was being investigated for human trafficking.
But on Monday, police denied that the operation at the orphanage amounted to a “raid,” saying that the children had been removed at the request of Ms. Golder, who had simply been unable to feed the children due to a shortage of funds, and had asked for help.
Wednesday’s brief joint statement from the Cambodian National Police and Sisha made no reference to raids or human trafficking. It also made no mention of Ms. Golder having asked authorities to take away the children due to her inability to feed them.
“Having received information that the management and child care at Love in Action orphanage was not in line with the minimum standards,” authorities and Sisha “went to do an inspection and spot check at LIA orphanage,” the new joint statement reads.
The inspection subsequently discovered that the orphanage was unregistered, that “the children did not receive proper care” based on government’s standards, and that “some children were physically assaulted and ran away from the orphanage.”
Based on this evidence, and the need to ensure the children’s safety, Wednesday’s statement says that the department of Social Affairs in Phnom Penh and a team including Sisha “organized an operation on March 22nd to remove 21 children aged 3 months to 17 years.”
No mention was made of why a second, joint statement was necessary or why the police’s version of events diverged from Sisha’s in the first place.
Pol Phithey, director of the Interior Ministry’s anti-human trafficking police department, reiterated Wednesday that police did not go to the orphanage to close it, but only to remove the children as “her center was illegal and was not following proper standards,” he said.
Mr. Phithey also added that it was possible the orphanage was not registered because of “an administrative fault between Department of Social Affairs and [Ms. Golder],” but he said that since Ms. Golder was currently under investigation, he could not elaborate further.
The 21 children removed from the orphanage are now being cared for at another Christian NGO, International Children’s Care Cambodia. However, Sisha and police say that seven children from the orphanage remain unaccounted for and that their whereabouts have not yet been determined.
“We are also investigating the missing children—where they are and why they were removed from the center,” Mr. Phithey said, adding that although Ms. Golder told police that she gave them back to their parents, she had yet to provide exact details.
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