Sitting on the floor of her neighbor’s home, her arms wrapped tightly around herself, 28-year-old mother Ro Kiya described last Saturday when her eight-month-old baby disappeared.
“Now my baby is gone. I have nothing,” she sobbed. “I do not want to live.”
Ro Kiya was washing clothes inside her small wooden Tuol Kok home Saturday morning as a neighbor minded her sleeping baby girl.
Another neighbor, a 29-year-old woman named Vy, dropped by at 8 am, Ro Kiya recalls with tears in her eyes. The woman began to play with the baby, Sonita, pulling faces to make her laugh. Then she picked the little girl up and walked to the door.
Seeing her leave, Ro Kiya turned to the woman and asked her where she was going. Vy replied that she was taking the baby to give it some breakfast, as Ro Kiya’s neighbors often did.
But half an hour later, when neither Vy nor Sonita had returned to the house, Ro Kiya began to fret. Vy, she said, had only moved into the neighborhood some three weeks before, and had never showed much interest in the child.
In addition, Ro Kiya recalled, Vy once had a child of her own, but sold it to her husband’s second wife in exchange for $100 and the promise that she would consent to a divorce.
“I used to ask her ‘How could you take the baby to the second wife?’” Ro Kiya sobbed. “I said ‘I can only feed my baby, I could never sell my baby or send it to live with a second wife.’”
Word of the baby’s disappearance quickly spread around the close-knit neighborhood. A moto driver who lived nearby came to tell Ro Kiya that he had seen Vy and the baby at 8:30 that morning near the Old Stadium.
That was the last time anyone saw Sonita. Ro Kiya said she went to the Tuol Kok district police the same day to report the disappearance. She said police promised to look into it.
Contacted Thursday, however, the police said they were unaware of the report.
Meanwhile the woman, Vy, who neighbors say worked as a taxi-girl, has not returned to her house.
In the meantime, Ro Kiya’s fears about what has become of her daughter are growing. In her anguish, neighbors said, she has tried several times to kill herself. One attempt to overdose on Valium landed her in Calmette Hospital. Now the women of the neighborhood have gathered round to keep a vigil over her to avert another suicide attempt.
In the absence of concrete clues, the women trade grisly stories of what becomes of disappeared babies. One of the fears raised by Ro Kiya and her friends and neighbors is that Sonita may have been taken out of Cambodia for adoption by foreigners.
But child advocates and police say that to their knowledge, the theft of a child for adoption is highly unusual. While the adoption of Cambodian children by foreigners has come in for heavy criticism because of a perceived lack of regulation, most children that are tapped for adoption are taken from state orphanages or sold by poor families who cannot afford to look after them, they say.
“There are plenty of children in orphanages, and poor families who would be willing to sell their children to secure a better future for them,” said Brian Smith, country director for Save the Children (UK). “I can’t see why it’s necessary to steal one.”
Smith said that trade in kidnapped children is usually confined to teenagers or pre-teens, who are sold into the sex trade or trafficked for slave labor.
Interpol Head Director Kim Channee said: “The smuggling of babies across the border has never happened in Cambodia. There are, however, many cases of girls from 8 to 15 who have been taken across the border at Koh Kong to Thailand to be sold into prostitution.”
Kim Channee says he believes the child may have been sold to a family or middleman in Phnom Penh and may have been hidden in someone’s house.
Ro Kiya said she would like to launch a television and radio appeal to try to locate her child. But with no money, she says there is little she can do.
In response to her plight, Beehive radio station owner Mom Sanando has agreed to broadcast an appeal calling for information on the whereabouts of the missing child.