The Australian president of an orphanage in Siem Reap province has dismissed allegations made by a Japanese national to the Australian Embassy that children’s rights have been abused at the establishment.
Satoshi Ito, who identifies himself as a Japanese humanitarian, wrote to the Australian ambassador in Phnom Penh in an e-mail message dated Sept 22 charging that orphans’ rights were being abused at the Sunrise Children’s Village, which is run by the NGO Australia Cambodia Foundation, Inc.
“The aim of Sunrise remains, as always, the welfare of the children,” Geraldine Cox, president of Sunrise, wrote in an e-mail to Satoshi Ito obtained Thursday.
In the e-mail to the Australian ambassador, Satoshi Ito appealed for the Australian government to investigate Sunrise.
“It is clear for me that this organization has been violating human rights of the orphan children,” Satoshi Ito wrote.
The Australian Embassy declined to comment Thursday.
In the complaint to the embassy, Satoshi Ito included two unsigned letters, which he alleged were written by orphans from Sunrise.
In one of the letters, a 15-year-old girl who identified herself as Pen Sokunthea claimed Sunrise had tried to cut off electricity, water, food and firewood to the orphanage.
In the other, a boy identified as Ly Chenda, 12, complained that Sunrise employed guards to stop visitors from entering.
Cox described the allegations as “rubbish,” in e-mail to a reporter on Thursday.
Cox wrote that friends of Satoshi Ito had been regular visitors to the orphanage and that they had been preaching Christianity there until her NGO took over the running of the center last year.
“We politely told them that under the new administration this could not be accepted, as the children would remain Buddhist,” Cox wrote.
“I do hope that you will go to Siem Reap to see for yourself that the allegations are rubbish,” she added.
Gerald Trevor, country director of the Australia Cambodia Foundation, said staff from local rights groups Licadho and the Cambodian Center for Human Rights have visited the orphanage in recent weeks, following previous complaints by Satoshi Ito, and were satisfied by what they saw. Trevor also said he did not believe the letters in the complaint had been written by children at the orphanage.
Naly Pilorge, director of Licadho, confirmed that Licadho’s provincial office interviewed children and staff at the orphanage.
“The children indicated that they wanted to remain at the orphanage,” she said.
“However, additional work must be undertaken by social workers or child development experts to determine whether or not the current environment is appropriate for the children,” she said. “It’s too early for us to agree that everything is fine.”