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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Woman dies in labour firm custody

Woman dies in labour firm custody

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Members of a disabled community in Kratie province protest outside Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Phnom Penh residence last year.

Family members have dropped a legal complaint over the death of a 36-year-old woman who died this weekend while in the custody of a labour recruitment firm, in exchange for US$4,000 in compensation from the company, they said today, while a rights group has called for further investigation into the case.

Chhem Sopheap, 36, died at the labour recruitment firm IIS in Dangkor district’s Dangkor commune in Phnom Penh on Saturday night after battling a month-long illness.

Chhem Sopheap’s husband, Heng Saroeun, 52, said the company refused to release his wife for treatment at the hospital, despite repeated requests, demanding he pay them US$800 to reimburse the costs of her training.

“I went to the company on Monday last week to ask the director [if I could] take my wife for treatment at home or the hospital, but they declined and said if I want my wife to leave the company I have to give them $800,” Heng Saroeun said.

“He denied me, and asked me to find the money for the company because he is afraid of us cheating the company.”

IIS paid Chhem Sopheap 1.2 million riels ($297) when she entered their programme, which trains women to become maids and connects them with employment in Malaysia, Heng Saroeun said.

Chhem Sopheap would have paid back the cost of her training from her salary.

Heng Saroeun said he negotiated IIS down to $400 for his wife’s release, but didn’t have enough.

“I took my land title [and] I sold my moto to get $190 to exchange to take my wife from the firm, but they still denied my request until my wife died in my arms,” he said.

Officials at Preah Kossomak hospital had told him the cause of death was a heart attack, he said, but they could not be reached directly for confirmation today.

Heng Saroeun said his wife had previously been healthy and suspected that she was underfed at the two-month training programme.

Thach Sotharath, the IIS director, denied responsibility for Chhem Sopheap’s death.

“She died of a heart attack and we tried our best to help her to send her to the hospital, but she could not be helped,” he said.

“Chhem Sopheap got sick and we sent her to the private clinic four times already while she was training … and we also spent about $200 on her treatment,” Thach Sotharath said.

Chhem Sopheap’s mother, Chea Pov, 60, did not believe her daughter died of a heart attack.

She said Chhem Sopheap had called her a week before she died to tell her she had vomited blood and felt severe body pains.

“We filed the complaint to the police to demand $10,000 for compensation and find out the reason my daughter died.”

“First the firm director agreed to give me 3 million riel ($743) for compensation, but I could not accept it. My daughter’s life is not cheap like this. She is a person, not an animal,” Chea Pov said.

They agreed, however, to accept $4,000 and drop the complaint.

Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for the rights group Licadho, said his organisation would continue investigating the case and called on police to do the same.

“It is the right of the family to drop the complaint and take the money, but for the law the police officials have to keep investigating with this case whether the woman died because she was sick or detained,” he said.

Keo Thea, director of the municipal Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Office in the Ministry of Interior, said he was not aware of the case, but that police were obligated to investigate further to find out the cause of death.

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