Police in Phnom Penh on Friday arrested a grocery shop owner who human rights workers say tortured her juvenile employees by throwing boiling water on them, cutting their faces and poking their eyes, among other abuses.
Sao Chanthy, 38, allegedly caused injury to her 17-year-old employee Khem Saray, who had been living at her home in the capital’s Sen Sok district for the past six years and worked both as a domestic servant and an employee in Ms Chanthy’s shop, according to district police chief Mok Hong.
Mr Hong said the arrest came after an Aug 3 incident when Ms Chanthy allegedly splashed boiling water on Mr Saray after a dispute over a small amount of money she found in his pocket.
“The victim was injured on his right hand and all of his stomach,” Mr Hong said, adding that Mr Saray and his 14-year-old sister Khem Srey Mao had lived at the house, each earning 50,000 riel, or about $12.50, per month for their mother since 2004 and 2007, respectively.
Am Sam Ath, technical adviser for local rights group Licadho, said yesterday that he believed both siblings had been tortured by the woman for a number of years.
Mr Sam Ath said Licadho had gotten involved and informed police after one of Ms Chanthy’s neighbors told them about the case last week. He also claimed that Ms Chanthy’s husband, Lieutenant Colonel Mich Mey, was a police officer at the Interior Ministry.
“We consider this action torture because it was not just this time, those children were tortured for a long time,” Mr Sam Ath said. “According to them, they were hit by shoes, they were spat on, they were hit by sticks, they had their faces cut by a knife, they had their eyes poked, etc.”
Mr Hong denied that Ms Chanthy had cut the two sibling’s faces with a knife, but admitted that she had carried out other violent acts against them.
“That woman…is just angry at her house servants…. She was just making trouble with them, not cutting their face,” Mr Hong said. “She was just using brooms and hard items to hit them. There was no scars other than from the boiling water.”
Mr Hong confirmed that Ms Chanthy’s husband was a police officer but denied that he had injured either of the siblings.
Phnom Penh municipal police chief Touch Naruth said yesterday that Ms Chanthy had been arrested based on evidence provided by Licadho and the victims’ mother.
“The man was seen with scars from being burned by the boiling water but his sister is fine,” Mr Naruth said, adding that the police report and the woman was to be sent to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday.
Deputy prosecutor Ek Chheng Huot said that he had received the police report but would not be able to begin processing the case before today. He added that police would continue to hold Ms Chanthy until she was questioned by the court.
The case marked the second time in less than a year that a woman from Sen Sok district has been suspected of torturing their employees.
In February, Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced schoolteacher Meas Neary, 41, and her husband Va Savoeun, 62, to a combined total of 30 years in prison for torturing an 11-year-old girl who was under their ward.
During the January trial, the child testified to being beaten with clothes hangers, hung from her feet and having had skin ripped from her genitals with pliers.
Licadho’s Mr Sam Ath said he was highly concerned the employers of children often did not respect their rights.
“Previously, we have noted that some children faced being tortured and some could be in dangerous situations where they are raped,” he said.