Police shut down an Australian-run orphanage in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district on Friday after children from the organization’s center escaped last month and reported incidents of beatings, anti-human trafficking NGO Sisha said in a statement.
Also on Friday, authorities raided another orphanage in Siem Reap province and charged its director with sexually assaulting two girls in his care, police said.
The raid in Phnom Penh was a joint mission carried out by anti-human trafficking police, the Ministry of Social Affairs and staff from Sisha that culminated in 33 children from the orphanage being sent to the Municipal Department of Social Affairs.
“[S]ome children were visibly ill and not taken to a doctor, the facility was dirty and sewage was blocked…. Interviews of the children revealed many instances of physical abuse from the staff,” Sisha said in the statement.
Officials at the Interior Ministry, Ministry of Social Affairs and Anti-Trafficking police either could not be reached or declined to comment.
Sisha explained that plans to shut down the center began after five children escaped from the orphanage on February 26 and complained to its staff of dire living conditions and violence. Seven more children escaped with similar stories on March 14, Sisha said.
The orphanage belongs to a Christian charity group called Love in Action (LIA), which is based in Queensland, Australia.
According to Sisha, the organization’s 71-year old founder Ruth Golder admitted to police that her orphanage was not registered with the Ministry of Interior and that she has no legal authority to care for the children. The statement also said that Ms. Golder is being investigated for “human trafficking, child abuse, neglect, and running an unregistered orphanage.”
Ms. Golder could not be reached Sunday. But in an interview with Fairfax Media on Friday, she appeared on camera distraught, her hair dyed bright orange.
“I love them with all my heart,” she said, crying. “I’ll fight the charges with all my soul and all my might and I know that God will fight with me.”
In an email from Love In Action’s office in Queensland, the organization refuted the claims being made against it using capital letters for emphasis.
“These allegations are ‘Most strenuously’ DENIED BY RUTH AND THEY HAVE ARISEN FROM A COMPLEMENT OF PERSONS DETERMINED TO BRING LIA DOWN FOR THEIR OWN SELFISH REASONS,” the organization said.
In Siem Reap on Friday, police arrested Morn Savuth, 46, the director of the Angkor Orphan and Education Organization.
Anti-human trafficking police chief Duong Thaovry said police had received reports from the local rights group Licadho that two girls, aged 11 and 12, had been raped.
“Both victims allege that their ‘Papa’ brought them to his room every night for the past year where he touched their bodies,” she said. “We are sending the victims to be examined because we do suspect that they have been raped.”
Nou Puthyk, Siem Reap provincial coordinator for Licadho, said the girls did not tell anyone because they feared they would be forced to leave the orphanage.
“We received information that the director of the orphanage was living with the girls in his room,” said Mr. Puthyk.