An Australian church’s shelter for at-risk girls in Phnom Penh has returned two children to a couple in Prey Veng province that has been trying to retrieve its daughters for the past five years.
Chap Chanti and husband Phun Chhok sent their daughters to stay at the She Rescue Home, a shelter for girls run by the Brisbane-based Citipointe Church, during a bout of extreme poverty in 2008.
When their lot improved the following year, the couple asked for their daughters back but were consistently denied, until this week.
Mr. Chhok said the shelter finally handed back the girls, now aged 11 and 12, at the local commune office on Wednesday morning.
“They were returned yesterday at 9:30 a.m.,” Mr. Chhok said, but only after he and his wife thumb-printed a document confirming that they sent their daughters to the shelter in 2008 voluntarily.
In April, Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Australian filmmaker James Ricketson of blackmail for threatening to disparage the shelter online if it did not return the girls, handing down a suspended two-year prison sentence and $1,500 fine.
At the trial, a lawyer for the shelter argued that releasing the girls and letting Mr. Ricketson film them would put them at risk of human trafficking. Mr. Ricketson has been working on a documentary about Ms. Chanti since she was a young girl and has supported the family financially.
A lawyer and an official for Citipointe did not reply to a request for comment.
Its decision to release the girls follows a letter sent to the church earlier this month from a lawyer retained by Mr. Ricketson on the parents’ behalf threatening legal action unless the girls were released by May 23.