15-year-old housemaid who suffered a year-long period of concerted physical abuse
and illegal detention at the hands of her employer has successfully prosecuted her
tormentor in the Phnom Penh Court.
Human rights groups assisted Seang Theary bring one of the rare prosecutions of domestic
violence to Phnom Penh court on July 21.
Theary's mother, Seang Nan, said she had been duped by a neighbor into letting her
daughter work as a nanny and housemaid near their Battambang home.
But Theary ended up in Phnom Penh, cut off from her family and sadistically treated
by Sok Mean.
Theary said Mean beat her with a hammer and a wooden pestle and stabbed her about
15 times in the legs with a screwdriver.
She said she was also deliberately scalded with hot water and locked up whenever
her employer left the house.
Her torment ended in January when neighbors hearing her cries for help investigated
what was happening in the house.
One of them, Srei Sarun, said she heard cries nearly every day and eventually decided
to take action.
"I suspected there was someone beating a child, and on January 22 the child
cried so loudly that I looked through the window and I saw Sok Mean beating a girl
with a hammer," she said.
Sarun said she asked her neighbors come to see what was happening and told Sok Mean
to stop beating girl, but Sok Mean didn't.
Sarun said she then notified the police and herself rescued the girl and took her
to Kantha Bopha Hospital and supported her during treatment.
"I and my neighbors gave some money to support Theary when we sent her to the
hospital," she said.
Another neighbor Korn Vany, 34, also assisted with Theary's care.
"My heart aches when I see anyone beating children and I try to help the victim
as much as I possibly can," she said.
Both police and Ung Bun Than, from the project against torture at the Cambodian League
for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) filed complaints with the
courts in February on behalf of Theary. Two weeks ago she got her day in court.
Sok Mean was charged with illegal detention and assault. She was found guilty of
bodily injury to a child and sentenced to one year's imprisonment and ordered to
pay 500,000 riel in compensation.
Theary is was now back in good health and said she would return to her family in
While Theary's case ended in prosecution, NGOs who deal with child issues in Cambodia
told the Post this was rare.
Sophorn Nara from Save the Children Norway said child domestic workers were often
overlooked among the labor issues in the country.
He said child domestic workers were mostly girls aged between 13 and 15. He said
house owners did not often think of their employees as children and did not realize
that children had special physical and mental needs.
"Sometimes, when house owners scold or beat the workers, it is because they
don't understand child psychology," he said.
Chea Pyden, Executive Director of Vulnerable Children Assistance Organization (VCAO)
said child domestic workers in Cambodia often had to work more than ten hours without
a rest, their normal wages ranged from $5 to $8 a month and only too frequently they
experienced harassment, beatings and abuse.
Pyden said that in Phnom Penh alone there were an estimated 4,000 child domestic
workers. Of those about 70 to 80 percent of children were beaten by the employers
and 2 to 3 percent were seriously injured.
"The authorities and the government officials have taken little action to bring
the child violators to court," he said.
Nop Sarin Sreyrath, Monitoring Program Assistance of Cambodian Women Crisis Center
(CWCC), said they do not receive many cases relating to children but those they did
receive were serious.
She said from 1998 till 2000 the CWCC received 13 cases of child abuse and eight
of the 13 children were seriously injured.
"When the authorities don't take action to investigate the violations against
children they endanger the children's' lives," she said.