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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Orphanage fights back against criticism

Orphanage fights back against criticism

An Australian-run orphanage in Battambang province, under investigation by police and rights organisations, has denied claims it is mistreating children.

The facility has instead claimed a protest by children last week that sparked the investigations was incited by social workers who wanted to oust the director and take her job.  The orphanage is also pointing the finger at teens who are not orphans but stay at the facility because their families live too far from a high school for them to live at home.

“Most of these children do not respect the Centre Rules and Regulations,” an undated letter from Hope for Cambodian Children said. These breaches include smoking, drinking beer and watching
pornographic video clips on their cell phones, the letter said. It also alleges that older children have “shared the sex videos [with] small kids who have seen and [then] drawn [pictures] of them”.

The letter is signed the orphanage’s children’s welfare manager, Romel Flores, its donor representative Erwin Liban, its assistant donor representative, Peter Butler, and thumb printed by Cambodian staff. It is a response to letters of complaint sent late last month by children to commune officials.

Dy Samrach, the orphanage’s director, told The Post yesterday that about 30 residents from 16 to 22 years of age had been incited to protest by five social workers who were vying for her job. “A handful of staff are jealous of me and want my position,” she said, adding that the five social workers had been suspended for one month while the orphanage conducts an investigation.

Most children at the centre are now banned from using cell phones. The letter from the orphanage said the phone ban was imposed to prevent the viewing of pornography. Previously, some had called newspapers to appeal for assistance, saying they were hungry and were not receiving money for school fees.

In a separate letter from the Australia-based Hope for Cambodian Children Foundation that supports the orphanage, its chair Jenny McAuley said she “emphatically rejects” media reports that “residents are not being properly fed and the allegations of corruption”.

“The director has spoken to the young people involved and their families. If a resolution cannot be reached the young people are free to return to their communities,” McAuley said.

The orphanage’s website, however, claims that the children it cares for have been “abandoned by their families and community because they have or are suspected of having HIV/AIDS”. The foundation’s fundraising efforts in Australia build sympathy for the children by suggesting that Cambodian communities and Cambodian-run orphanages have rejected them because they have AIDS.

According to Unicef, the number of orphanages in Cambodia has doubled over the last six years to 269. Some charge tourists fees for the opportunity to volunteer at them. Friends International has said that “orphanage tourism” has contributed to surge in the number of orphanages and “orphans”, many of whom have at least one parent.

Kim Tieng, director of the provincial department of social affairs, veterans and rehabilitation, said his office cooperated with police and rights group Licadho to investigate the centre, but he had yet to receive a report. Sangke district police chief Puth Bunthoeurn said he had asked officers to investigate but he had yet to receive a report.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY VINCENT MCISSAC

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