A school teacher and her nephew were convicted in Phnom Penh Municipal Court on June 5 for the months-long physical abuse of a three-year-old child that included food deprivation and brutal daily beatings that experts fear may leave lifelong physical and psychological scars.
The abused: Serei Mom Ly.
Sourn Serei Vuthy, 40, the adoptive mother of the victim, and her nephew, Ly Chan Sokha, 28, were convicted of battery with injury and sentenced to three and a-half months and four months imprisonment respectively for the abuse of three-year-old Serei Mom Ly. With time served, Vuthy and Sokha will be free by the end of June.
The human rights organization Licadho, which originally brought charges against the pair and was awarded permanent custody of the victim, applauded the conviction but expressed disappointment at the "lenient" sentencing.
"This rare conviction for child abuse is an important step towards protecting Cambodian children and punishing violence against them in the home," said Jason Barber, Consultant for Licadho's Project Against Torture. "But we are concerned that the sentences do not reflect the severity of the abuse which occurred in this case, or act as a strong deterrent to others who physically abuse their children."
Under the law, battery with injury carries a possible sentence of two months to 10 years imprisonment, depending on whether a weapon is used and if injuries are permanent or temporary.
Witnesses reported that prior to Vuthy and Sokha's arrests, Mom Ly had been beaten virtually every day for months. Licadho investigators report the abuse included being beaten, kicked, whipped, thrown to the ground and having her head submerged in water. The girl was also deprived adequate food and water and forcibly confined to the premises when the pair went out.
When rescued on February 28, Mom Ly was found to have suffered from a broken right arm, two black eyes, multiple cuts and bruises to her head, back, stomach and legs as well as psychological and emotional trauma.
"[Mom Ly] is not aware what has happened to her because of her young age [but] she is covered with bruises," said Licadho's Keo Savin. "In her present condition the child can only walk but can not run like normal children."
While Sokha admitted in court to having beaten the girl with a stick prior to his arrest, Vuthy denied allegations of abuse.
"Before I hit the girl, I had warned her first," she said angrily. "The child is a very difficult child to raise."
Noting that domestic abuse in Cambodia is traditionally considered a private matter in which outsiders do not want to get involved, Barber said neighbors had alerted Licadho to Mom Ly's plight "because it was really serious".
LICADHO intends to find a permanent foster family for the girl.
"We are pleased that this case got to court, as mainly domestic violence cases against children do not, [and] the conviction sends a welcome message that physical battery of children is a crime and should treated as such," said Barber. "Stronger sentences are needed to send a clear message to abusers that such cruelty will not be tolerated."