The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday handed down the minimum prison sentence of two years to a couple arrested in September for paying to take more than 20 children from their parents and forcing them to sell fruit throughout the night on Phnom Penh’s streets and at beer gardens.
On September 22, anti-human trafficking police raided Chea Sady and Then Vanthai’s Chbar Ampov district home and discovered 22 children living in cramped conditions. Ranging in age from 6 to 17, the children were deployed by the couple to wander the streets of the capital, selling goods in order to pay off money given to their parents by a fixer.
Presiding Judge Yin Saroeun sentenced the couple to two years in prison on Wednesday for “subjecting a minor to working conditions harmful to his or her health,” which carries a maximum sentence of five years.
Kim Ratana, a lawyer for the couple, said the verdict was still overly harsh, as his clients were simply trying to help children who came from poor backgrounds in Prey Veng province.
“My clients did not understand about the law and they just wanted to help those children and give them work,” Mr. Ratana said, adding that most of the children were poverty-stricken relatives.
“No children said they suffered bad mental or physical treatment by this couple, and all children were provided with enough food,” he added.
Chea Sophy, a lawyer for the victims, told the court during a hearing last week that one of the children had since died of a liver disease, possibly aggravated by the poor living conditions.
However, the court did not add the charge of “aggravating circumstances as a consequence of the death of a minor,” which can carry a 15-year prison sentence and was suggested by Mr. Sophy, who added that the sentencing seemed reasonable.
“They did not know their action was a crime and they also confessed in the beginning,” he said.
Speaking outside the courtroom, Mr. Sady, the defendant, said he would not appeal the decision.
“I will bear prison for two years,” he said.