Australian-Run Orphanage Denies Abuse Claim

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.”


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