For the 10 infants and two children taken from the Asian Orphans Association in a Sept 3 raid, the future is still uncertain.
“We do not have any answers about the temporary custody requests,” said Naly Pilorge, acting president of Licadho, referring to a petition the human rights group submitted to the municipal court just over a week ago in hopes of keeping the children for the time being.
“Meanwhile, the Child Welfare Department [of the Ministry of Social Affairs] went to see the babies on Thursday night and they said that they wanted to transfer the babies to a state orphanage,” Pilorge said.
This came as a surprise to Licadho, since a directive from Prime Minister Hun Sen last Wednesday to the Council of Ministers stipulates that the babies should stay in Licadho’s care during the investigations into the AOA.
“The letter says the babies should be taken to a state orphanage if there is a problem,” Pilorge said, adding that in her opinion there is no problem with the children’s care right now.
According to Pilorge, two women have come to Licadho, claiming to be mothers of two of the children and telling stories very similar to that of Deonj Cheap, the mother who sparked the Sept 3 raid when she claimed an organization offered free medical tests to her two children, and then refused to give them back and instead gave her money for them.
The two women said they were approached while they were pregnant by an organization that offered them financial and medical help when their babies were born, according to Licadho.
After the women gave birth, the organization took the infants in for medical testing, according to Licadho. When the mothers went to pick the babies up, the organization refused to return them, Licadho claims.
Although the women have correctly described birthmarks on two of the babies’ bodies, Licadho officials said they are not yet certain they are the mothers.
Since coming forward to claim the children, the two women have been fired from their restaurant jobs and have received threats, Pilorge said, adding that Deonj Cheap started receiving threats about 10 days ago.
All of the women are now in hiding in a “safe place,” Pilorge said.
However heartening Hun Sen’s directive may be for human rights workers trying to resolve the AOA case, it is a court’s interpretation of Cambodian law that will ultimately decide the matter. And Cambodian law appears to be unclear in this area, Pilorge said.
Adoption is currently governed by a sub-decree that has been in effect since March. According to Pilorge, the new sub-decree contradicts some directives still in effect at the Ministry of Social Affairs.
She also said that Licadho is hoping for assistance on the case from the Ministry of the Interior’s anti-trafficking unit.