A labor recruitment agency in Phnom Penh, who allegedly held a 3-year-old girl hostage until the child’s mother agreed to repay fees she incurred while training to work as a maid in Malaysia, released the child on Friday amid pressure from a legal aid organization. However, after releasing the child, staff of the IIS recruitment company then detained the mother, Rim Men, 33, and held her against her will until intervention from anti-human trafficking police led to her release later the same day.
“They didn’t have any right to confine the maid or the child,” said Moeun Tola of the Community Legal Education Center, a legal aid group that worked on the release of Ms Men and her daughter.
Friday’s freeing of the mother and daughter is only the latest allegation of mistreatment inside one of Cambodia’s many recruitment agencies, and comes after the alleged suicides of two Cambodian women last month who died while in the custody of a recruitment agency and an employer in Malaysia.
According to Mr Tola, Ms Men left the IIS recruitment company in Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district on Sept 2 after she received news that her husband had died the day before at their family home in Battambang province.
Ms Men, who left her daughter with other women at the training center to make the journey to Battambang, decided after the death of her husband to remain in Cambodia and not go to Malaysia.
Mr Tola said that she returned to Phnom Penh to collect her daughter, but was told by the firm that the child would not be released unless she repaid the company $500, which they said was the amount they had invested in her during the month-long training.
Representatives from CLEC visited the firm’s office on Friday morning with Ms Men and relatives in order to retrieve the three-year-old.
The company agreed to free the child, but as the group was leaving the firm’s premises staff of the firm allegedly prevented Ms Men from leaving until she paid $500.
“IIS staff grabbed her [Ms Men] from our car and brought her to the company for settling the issue,” Mr Tola said.
Mr Tola said that he phoned An Bunhak, founder of the Top Manpower Co Ltd labor recruitment firm and president of the Cambodian Association of Recruitment Agencies, to inform him of the situation. Mr Bunhak had taken issue with the situation and informed police, he said.
Mr Bunhak could not be reached for comment.
Meas Pros, administration chief for IIS, denied having detained Ms Men and said that the company had merely asked her to stay a short time in order to fill in the necessary documents for her departure.
“The company did not detain Ms Men or her daughter,” he said. “We did not force her to pay the company.”
So Vandy, director of cross-border anti-human trafficking bureau at the Ministry of Interior, said that police ordered IIS to free Ms Men after they heard about the case and that she had arrived at his on Friday afternoon.
“The police ordered the company to bring the victim to the police office,” he said, adding that Ms Men had been released shortly after 6pm and after paying the firm some money.
“This case was resolved in my office,” Mr Vandy said, adding that Ms Men eventually paid $75 to IIS after negotiating with the firm.
(Additional reporting by Simon Marks)