Although anti-trafficking group SISHA last Friday said beatings were among the serious complaints leading to the removal of 21 children from the Love in Action orphanage in Phnom Penh, police said yesterday that they were aware of just one minor instance of physical abuse at the orphanage by a low-ranking staff member.
A press release distributed Tuesday evening by SISHA and attributed to the Cambodian National Police as well as SISHA stated that “some children were physically assaulted and ran away from the orphanage.”
But according to Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Police chief Pol Pithey, the physical abuse was “not a big case.”
“A few children had an argument over portions of rice, and a cook very slightly injured them.”
The fact that children were squabbling over food was more indicative of the reasons for the intervention, which included poor management and the orphanage’s unregistered status, he said.
“Therefore, she forwarded her children to the social affairs department . . . We have no information about human trafficking in the orphanage,” he added.
Pithey said that whether the orphanage could be reopened was up to the Ministry of Social Affairs. Ministry officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.
The whereabouts of seven children who lived in the orphanage but ran away shortly before the closure are still unknown, but police believe they have a few clues in the matter, he added.
The Love In Action International Office in Australia said its management was “in the very early stages of negotiations” about the orphanage, and declined to comment further.
When asked for clarification about the complaints against the orphanage, a SISHA representative said: “We cannot release details on the allegations, as the investigation is ongoing.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JUSTINE DRENNAN