Court Grants Custody to Accused Orphanage

The Supreme Court ordered that a dozen children will stay in the custody of a local orphanage that rights group Licadho suspected of trafficking babies, litigants said Thursday.

The Asia Orphans Association filed a complaint against Licad­ho more than two years ago, seeking $1,250 in compensation and legal custody of the children. The case has run the gamut of the Cambo­dia courts, but reached its ap­parent conclusion Thursday, or­phanage director Puth Serey said.  Though Supreme Court president Dith Munty deferred a decision on the issue of compensation and handed the civil case back to the Appeals Court, Puth Serey said he will drop pursuit of compensation.

“They accuse me a long time, two or three years, for nothing…. I don’t want to be involved anymore,” Puth Serey said, adding Licadho’s allegations have given his orphanage bad publicity.

Licadho took custody of the children in September 2001 after po­lice raided two houses in Tuol Kok district and arrested four men for human trafficking. It was later discovered that the men had ties to the Asia Orphans Associa­tion, which in turn said the houses were used as medical clinics.

The raid drew the attention of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who in of­ficial correspondence with Wo­men’s Affairs Minister Mu So­chua in September 2001, or­dered that the children stay with Licadho or another organization as authorities investigated. It also helped spark a US probe and subsequent ban on adoptions from Cambodia.

Shortly after the raid, however, the municipal court released the arrested men, turned the children over to the orphanage and or­dered Licadho to pay compensation, setting off a string of appeals.

Following the court’s ruling, Licadho outlined its claim to the children’s custody in a public statement and urged further investigation of the orphanage, which keeps more than 100 children.

Puth Serey denies any wrongdoing. On Thursday he encouraged authorities to investigate bad adoption practices, but added that baby-buying was not always a black-and-white issue. “A mother comes and says ‘Take my children, I have no chance to feed them.’ What do you do?” he said.

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