A husband and wife who allegedly beat and tortured two girls in their care for years, using electric shocks and stinging ants as punishment, were charged Sunday at Phnom Penh Municipal Court.
Kouch Vina, 34, and his wife Cheam Sreydoung, 30, were arrested on Friday at their home in Meanchey district’s Boeng Tompun commune, where they ran a furniture and construction company.
Municipal court deputy prosecutor Um Sopheak said the couple faces two to five years in prison if found guilty of intentional torture with aggravating circumstances.
The two girls, sisters aged 7 and 14, had been under the care of the couple for around five years and were working as domestic help, police said.
Keo Thea, chief of the Phnom Penh anti-human trafficking police, said police arrested the couple after a neighbor reported the abuse to commune authorities. The neighbor said the couple used electric wires to shock the girls when they did not launder the family’s clothes properly, and that they placed stinging ants on the children’s skin as a punishment.
“We invited the couple for questioning at our office, and we arrested them when we found they really tortured the two underage girls,” Mr. Thea said.
The girls came to live with the couple when their father came to work as a construction worker at the couple’s company, Veng Vina, according to Mr. Thea’s deputy, Phat Phalla.
The girls are now staying at a center run by the municipal social affairs department, department director Sorn Sophal said. He said the girls’ father had come to the center on Saturday and tried to take them out, but was not allowed.
Work continued as usual Sunday at the couple’s home, with workers mixing cement and shaping concrete pillars. Those inside the house declined to speak about the case, claiming ignorance.
Sim Chanthorn, who identified herself as an aunt of the couple, said she was not aware of the alleged torture. “I just came here to visit,” she said.
But villagers living around the business told a different story.
Kim Sokha, a neighbor who runs a food cart nearby, said she began noticing bruises on the younger sister about a year ago.
“I saw that they must have used a stick to beat her,” Ms. Sokha said. “I heard the small girl crying behind the house, but I did not see the beating.”
Ms. Sokha said she never contacted authorities about the bruising because she never actually witnessed any beatings.
“I’m busy with my business, so I never worried over someone else’s personal issues,” she said.
Chhoun Pha, who runs a shop nearby, said she would only see the younger sister when she came out to buy ice or drinks.
“She never got out to play with other children,” Ms. Pha said. “She always stayed inside the house. She only got out when they used her to buy something.”
Ms. Pha added that some of the workers from the yard, who also made purchases at her store, mentioned the abuse to her.
“I never dared to tell anyone about it because I never saw it with my own eyes,” Ms. Pha said.
(Additional reporting by Alex Consiglio)
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