The chief monk of a pagoda in Siem Reap province has been arrested on suspicion of raping nine young novices, with more victims expected to be identified, according to police.
Vong Chet, 46, head of Ratanak Mony Rong Ko pagoda in Kralanh district, was detained by police yesterday after the parents of nine boys aged 9 to 16 alleged he had sex with them, according to Chea Heng, deputy chief of anti-human trafficking and juvenile protection in the province.
“We received a complaint from parents of nine young novices [on Sunday] saying that their kids had been raped by the chief monk over five months,” Heng said, adding that one of the victims claimed he had been raped between 10 and 20 times.
Chet, who was defrocked on Sunday evening, had confessed his crimes to some of the younger monks, but had threatened to punish them if they made his wrongdoing public, according to Heng.
The monk had also allegedly used financial inducements to procure sex.
“The victims told us that they had been paid between 30,000 and 100,000 riel [about $7.50 to $25] each time,” Heng said.
Chet was due to appear in the provincial court today to face charges of “buying a prostitute”.
James McCabe, head of the Child Protection Unit, which is part of a task force looking into the case, said the investigation was far from over.
“We expect more children to be identified as we progress,” he said.
McCabe also revealed that this was the second instance of alleged serial sex attacks on young boys by a monk in less than 18 months.
“We had a multiple rape case involving a monk and in excess of 11 boys in Kampong Cham province, which came to light in June 2014,” he said.
“The monk fled and has not been apprehended, but the investigation is ongoing.”
McCabe’s unit was now dealing with a record number of child sex abuse cases.
“As of today, I am up to case 245 of serious rapes or homicides against children under 15 since the beginning of this year,” he said.
“Reporting is increasing all the time, so we are getting a much clearer picture of the scale of the problem.”
Buddhism in Cambodia was facing a similar challenge to one which the Catholic church and other institutions responsible for caring for children in Western countries have been dealing with for decades, McCabe said.
“When you’ve got an institution that has men who are meant to live a celibate life, and vulnerable children living alongside them, there is a potential risk,” he said.
“The Buddhist leadership needs to look at addressing this situation.”
Chhan Sokunthea, head of the women and children’s rights section of Adhoc agreed, and said Buddhist temples provided plenty of opportunity for someone who wanted to have sex with a child.
“It’s a quiet place, and often a boy or a girl will be alone in a room with just one monk, and that creates an opportunity for abuse,” she said.
Children of impoverished families whose parents send them to a pagoda to benefit from free education and free food were also at risk of being groomed by pedophiles, she added.
“In some of the cases Adhoc has dealt with, the monk has tried to gain the confidence and trust of a child by giving them presents and so on, and later they have raped them.”
A spokesperson for UNICEF said the UN body was supporting the Ministry of Cults and Religion to incorporate child protection into the monastic education curriculum.
“There is a belief that children are safe inside monastic communities, hence often they are left behind playing alone or among their peers and unattended,” he added.
“This can put children in a situation where they are at risk of abuse.”
Spokesman for the Ministry of Cults and Religion, Seng Somony, said that following Chet’s arrest, the annual monks meeting at the end of the year was likely to focus more on “monks’ discipline”.