Phnom Penh Municipal Court President Soar Sokphiri is scheduled to issue a decision today on the legal guardianship of 12 children taken last month by authorities from the Asian Orphans Association.
The court has considered three guardianship requests—from the human rights group Licadho, from the AOA and from the Ministry of Social Affairs.
On Sept 3, district police, anti-trafficking police and human rights workers took the children from a Tuol Kok district AOA facility, claiming they might be victims of child trafficking.
After the raid, the children—some of them only a few weeks old—were placed under the temporary care of Licadho.
And though no charges have been brought against the AOA, suspicions about the orphanage remain strong among human rights groups and some government officials.
“We would like guardianship because the AOA is under suspicion of trafficking babies,” Licadho official Naly Pilorge said last week.
Chhit Boravuth, attorney for AOA, has said his client has a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Social Affairs, which he says ensures the legality of the orphanage’s actions. He has also referred to a Sept 4 decision by Deputy City Prosecutor Sok Roeun not to charge anyone at the agency with trafficking after the raid.
“I don’t know why Licadho does not return the children to the AOA,” Chhit Boravuth said. “They are opposing a decision of the court. Licadho is going too far in this case.”
Following a directive by Prime Minister Hun Sen, the Council of Ministers on Sept 12 ordered an investigation of the AOA reopened.
The council said Licadho should care for the 12 children, and that Licadho should have the cooperation of the Ministry of Social Affairs during the investigation.
The Ministry of Social Affairs has refused to comment on their reasons for submitting a guardianship request to the court in support of AOA and in competition with Licadho.