A man was arrested in Svay Rieng province on Wednesday after he allegedly hired someone to bury alive his day-old daughter because she was born with a cleft lip, local police said Thursday.
The newborn, who had been buried on the grounds of Svay Rieng City’s Prey Chhlak pagoda, has been rescued and is now recovering with her mother in the provincial hospital.
The city’s deputy police chief, Prak Chut, named the suspect as 29-year-old high school teacher Kung Sokthy from Prey Veng province.
“The suspect confessed that he hired someone to bury the baby,” Mr. Chut said.
“The reason the baby’s father wanted to kill his baby is because the baby did not have good health and a cleft lip, and he felt embarrassed by her,” Mr. Chut said.
Arrest warrants will be issued for Mr. Sokthy’s accomplice and a tuk-tuk driver who accompanied him to bury the baby, whose identities are not yet known, he added.
“The baby girl was buried alive in the east side of the Prey Chhlak pagoda beneath a tree,” said Prey Chhlak commune chief Hun Sovan.
“The baby was seen by a few kids in the pagoda at about 5 p.m. on Wednesday. They heard the sound of a baby crying and then ran to tell a monk in the pagoda…. He dug into the soil to save the baby, gave her a bath and sent her to the provincial hospital,” Mr. Sovan added.
The newborn’s mother was still at the hospital, recovering from the birth.
Nut Kosal, the commune police chief, said the baby had been shrouded in a scarf, a towel, a sarong and a blanket and buried in the soil at a depth of about 10 cm.
“The baby is beautiful with white skin and she weighs about three kg, although she has a cleft lip,” Mr. Kosal said.
He said the children who heard the baby’s cries had seen two men with a motorbike and a tuk-tuk pull into the compound before the incident.
Chea Phearom, a child rehabilitation officer for the NGO Capacity Building of People with Disability in the Community Organization (Cabdico), said many of the families he works with feel disappointed when their children are born with a cleft lip or palate, which is easily corrected through surgery.
Dr. Keo Vanna, the manager of reconstructive surgery at the Children’s Surgical Center in Phnom Penh, said: “Babies with this condition are usually from the poor families. The family can feel hopeless and they have a low education, so they don’t know how to seek help.
“Sometimes they worry the disability is the result of a mistake in a previous life. When the baby is born, they worry about their reputation in the village.”
Last year, he performed 89 of the 229 corrective cleft surgeries at CSC, which has been offering the operation for free since 1999.
Corrective surgeries are also performed for free at the Operation Smile clinic at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital.
(Additional reporting by Lauren Crothers)