Three monks in Svay Rieng province have been defrocked, arrested and charged with rape after allegedly raping two girls, aged 13 and 17, who went to celebrate Water Festival at a local pagoda on Thursday night, police said.
In response to the rapes, Supreme Patriarch Non Nget suggested that misbehavior in the monkhood occurred only occasionally and might be caused by infiltrators from other religions who are trying to wreak havoc within the Buddhist ranks.
The monks, who are all in their early twenties, were defrocked and arrested on Friday after being identified by the two rape victims from Svay Rieng City, said Sangkhor commune police chief Seng Sam Oll.
They were charged with rape by Svay Rieng Provincial Court on Saturday and detained in the provincial prison after being charged, according to provincial police chief Han Ban.
Police also defrocked and arrested two other monks suspected of being accomplices, but they were later released because the victims could not positively identify them, Mr Sam Oll said.
“The victims told us that six monks were involved in the rape, but they could not remember what all the suspects look like,” he said.
Three monks allegedly kept watch while Kath Vannak, 24, and Dun Sokhea, 22, raped the younger girl and Neou Tuth, 21, raped the older, he said.
“The suspects caught their hands and legs, closed their mouths and raped them one by one,” he said.
The rapes occurred inside Chumpouproek pagoda at about midnight after the girls came to dance and celebrate the second day of the Water Festival, he said. After the victims did not return home from the dance, their parents found them sobbing in the pagoda. Mr Sam Oll also said police had found 29 empty beer cans at the pagoda that they suspected had been consumed by the monks.
Supreme Patriarch Non Nget said it was impossible to stop criminals from committing abuses in pagodas, even though religious leaders made an effort to educate monks nationwide.
“It always happens, but it’s not because of Buddhism—it is because of individuals,” Mr Nget said. “These kids use drugs and are difficult to advise, so their parents send them to pagodas to get education. They never redeem themselves and stain our religion.”
“Some come from different religions and become monks to cause problems for Buddhism,” he added, citing “Christianity” as one of the faiths from which perpetrators may have emerged.
Mr Nget called on all chief monks to defrock offenders and let authorities punish them under the law.
Political observer Chea Vannath said that a majority of monks try to discipline themselves and learn Buddhist values. “It is just a few bad apples that spoil the whole community of monks,” Ms Vannath said. “When people in a position of trust betray that trust, then it’s a shock.”
Pagodas should be serene, but some allow inappropriate parties, music and beer drinking, she said. “If all that happens…we have to prepare for any incidents that come along.”
These monks are not the first to be accused of child rape this year.
In September, a monk allegedly raped two girls, aged 12 and 9, when they came to celebrate Pchum Ben at a Kompong Thom pagoda. In July, a monk was accused of raping a 5-year-old girl who often went to pray at the pagoda where she lived in Takeo province. And in February, two monks allegedly raped a 15-year-old girl who was visiting her grandmother in Kratie province.
Other recent scandals have also tarnished the reputation of the monkhood, most shockingly in 2010 when a monk named Nhet Khai was found guilty of filming more than 600 women as they bathed naked in holy water he had provided them in Phnom Penh’s Srah Chak pagoda.
Earlier this year, five Wat Lanka pagoda boys allegedly beat a suspected thief to death in retaliation for stealing a monk’s mobile phone.
In 2010, monks and clergymen raped five children, while 10 child rapes were committed in pagodas, according to data compiled by NGO network End Child Prostitution, Abuse and Trafficking in Cambodia.
Ros Sopheap, executive director of Gender and Development for Cambodia, said there was no comprehensive data on rapes committed by monks.
“I assume there are more than those reported in the news,” Ms Sopheap said.
Parents and victims are often reluctant to report the crime regardless of whether the perpetrator was a monk, she said. “They still do not trust the court system and do not know where to get help.”
Ms Sopheap added that rape cases like this one are eroding the respect held for Buddhist monks in general. “If they continue to do like this, less people respect” them, she said.
(Additional reporting by Alice Foster)