Center to Reopen After Child Abuse Reports

A church-run care center for children in Kratie province where police say three girls were sexually assaulted by the director’s husband is set to reopen within days under the same management, church officials said Tuesday.

The pentecostal Foursquare Church in Chhlong district’s Chhlong commune, run by Nav Saihou, 32, serves as a care center for about 10 children, who stay at the church between classes at a nearby school and sleep there overnight.

According to provincial police, Ms. Saihou left her husband, Nor Thy, 37, in charge of the church while she traveled to Sambor district for training in early September. During her absence, Mr. Thy molested and attempted to rape three girls aged between 10 and 12, police said.

Mr. Thy is wanted for arrest and remains on the run.

Foursquare Cambodia administrator Pow Naret said the church in Chhlong commune would reopen no later than November 1, with Ms. Saihou as director until the church can find her a new position.

“We plan to move her to another church, because she no longer has a good name in this area,” Mr. Naret said, adding that he did not believe it was necessary to fire her because her husband committed the alleged abuse without her knowledge.

The U.S.-based International Church of the Foursquare Gospel operates 99 institutions it refers to as “church orphan homes” throughout Cambodia. The director of Foursquare Cambodia, Ted Olbrich, said in a 2010 interview with Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs that the church avoided sexual threats to children by putting older women in charge of them.

“We don’t have all the problems with pedophilia that secular NGOs or even other churches have because we have a bunch of grannies taking care of them,” Mr. Olbrich said.

Mr. Naret admitted Tuesday that the church knew that Mr. Thy had been involved in caring for children at the center his wife was running, but that going forward, children at the Foursquare homes would only be left with female employees.

“The solution we have is in the future we will keep one woman in the church at all times, not leave a man with the kids,” Mr. Naret said.

Although Foursquare’s churches double as child care centers, many of them are not registered as such with the Ministry of Social Affairs.

Oum Sophannara, director of child welfare for the Social Affairs Ministry, said that he was aware of the case in Chhlong commune but that because the church was not officially an orphanage he was under no obligation to inspect it.

“We do not inspect community-based centers. Police investigate those cases and the police are working on this,” he said.

“There are a lot of problems with no proper care, and [community care centers] not meeting standards,” Mr. Sophannara added. He said a meeting is scheduled for next month between provincial social affairs officials and provincial cults and religion officials to determine who is responsible for overseeing the centers.

Provincial social affairs director To Dong said he had already investigated the alleged abuse but could not take punitive action because the church is registered with the Ministry of Cults and Religion.

“Whether or not the church will keep operating or close down will depend on [the meeting] next month,” he said.

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