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Child held as ‘ransom’

A widow  who says her three-year-old daughter was taken hostage by a labour recruitment firm after she left its training centre to mourn the death of her husband is demanding the firm return her child or she will take the matter to police.

A distraught Rerm Man, 33, said yesterday the IIS company, in Phnom Penh’s Dangkor district, had taken her daughter Derm Vann hostage, claiming she owed them US$650, after she left the training centre the day after her husband died on September 1.

“I had to leave the company because my husband died and there was no one to feed my [four] children. I asked the company to let me leave in order to feed my children,” she said at the office of the Community Legal Education Centre in Phnom Penh.

The widow said her husband had brought their child from their home in Battambang’s Mong Russey district to visit her at the IIS centre 10 days before his death.

But when she left the centre after hearing he had passed away, company staff refused to return the child unless she repaid a 700,000 riel loan and money for two mobile phones they provided her, she said, adding that she simply did not have the money.

“I am terrified about my daughter’s safety and health because I heard that my daughter is sick. I am afraid they will do something bad and won’t take care of her,” she said.

IIS director Thach Sotharath denied that his company had the child and said he did not even know who Rerm Man was.

“My company does not have this name. Maybe she confused,” he said.

Huy Pich Sovann, a program officer at CLEC, said they would confront ISS with Rerm Man today and take the matter to the police if the company continued to deny having the child.

“The baby is human, not an object. If [Rerm Man] has no baby inside the company I don’t think she would have said she does,” he said.

Opposition MP Mu Sochua described the latest recruitment scandal as another case of “very grave” debt bondage. She has frequently criticised abuses by recruitment firms, suggesting  they have not
been sanctioned by the government because they are owned by people within it or closely connected to it.   

“Even if the mother owes money to the agency, the agency has no right whatsoever to keep the child,” she said. “You have to use the penal code.

“ You hold someone against their will, especially if it’s a child, and force the mother to pay – that is kidnapping.”

Keo Thea, director of the municipal human trafficking and juvenile protection bureau, said police would be able to investigate once they had met with Rerm Man.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KHOUTH SOPHAK CHARKYA

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