SEN Sok district police sent three suspects to Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Sunday morning after they were arrested Friday on suspicion of severely mistreating an 11-year-old girl who worked as a domestic servant.
District police chief Mak Hong said Soam Srey Neang, who worked in the house of two of the suspects in Phnom Penh Thmey commune, was freed after police received tip-offs from neighbours that the girl was being mistreated.
“We arrested them because what they did to the young girl was very cruel,” Mak Hong said. “It is unbelievable that they dared to commit such evil actions following complaints from neighbours.”
During Friday’s raid, police detained the victim’s godparents and an elderly guardian who allegedly sold the victim to the couple when she was still an infant.
Pean Rathamanith, a senior monitor for children’s rights at the rights group Licadho, said the child was exploited for her labour and had endured “very brutal” treatment at the hands of her adopted “parents”.
Soam Srey Neang was abandoned by her biological parents and given to the elderly woman, he said, who looked after the girl until the age of 2, before selling her to the couple for US$400.
After conducting interviews with the victim, Pean Rathamanith reported that her adoptive mother ordered her to clean floors, water flowers, clean the kitchen and cut the grass in her villa. She also “beat and tortured” the young girl as punishment for small misdemeanours.
“The victim told us she was mistreated repeatedly when she grew up. When she was 10 years old, she started doing housework, and for the last year she was heavily tortured and beaten with pincers, clothes hangers, brooms, whips and electric wires,” he said.
“Her whole body from her head down [was covered] with frightening scars and wounds from her mistreatment.”
Pean Rathamanith said the girl was now in the care of a local shelter that asked not to be named for the sake of her protection.
“We have taken the first step of evacuating the girl from an evil tragedy, and we will provide lawyers for the victim and urge authorities to seriously prosecute these people for their brutal acts,” he said.
A child labour programme officer from the International Labour Organisation, who declined to be named because he was not authorised to comment on the case, said he was “shocked” to read of the girl’s plight but argued that the arrest was a sign that the government and law enforcement officials were taking proactive steps to fight child labour.