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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Kidnapped and abused at eight

Kidnapped and abused at eight

Fourteen year old "Sophany" will probably be the first Cambodian to die

of AIDS in this country.

Sophany, now an orphan, was kidnapped from her home province of Kompong Cham and

sold to a fruit farm in Thailand as a child laborer when she was eight years old.

During the next five years she was subjected to nightly sexual abuse by the plantation

owner and his male laborers.

Then, earlier this year, her nightmare looked like ending when a Cambodian couple

found Sophany, who was then suffering from malaria, and brought her to Sihanoukville,

thinking they could use her as a servant.

When she failed to recover, they dumped her at a provincial hospital before eventually

she was found by the American-headquartered Assemblies of God organization, which

runs orphanages around Cambodia.

"When we found her, she was extremely malnourished," volunteer worker Neil

Youngquist recalled.

Medical tests proved she was suffering from several sexually-transmitted diseases

and hepatitis B. She was also HIV positive.

When the Assemblies of God group contacted other non-government organizations directly

involved in AIDS programs they found that no one could help Sophany.

Youngquist also found that he had to confront considerable prejudice from his own

Cambodian staff as well as from doctors at Phnom Penh hospitals.

"Even at the Pasteur Institute, the staff would shrink away when we brought

her in for blood tests," he said. "We would have our arms around her, but

they would visibly back off."

Finally a doctor from Medecins Du Monde took Sophany into his care and the malaria

eased up. Even so, she probably has a year and a half to live at most.

"It's made us think a lot, because now we have to make plans for subsequent

childen who will test positive for HIV," said Youngquist. "She won't be

the last."



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