The Phnom Penh Municipal Court awarded permanent custody of ten infants and two children
to the Asian Orphans' Association April 24. The children have been at the center
of an ongoing criminal and civil battle since police placed the children in the care
of human rights NGO Licadho following a raid on a Tuol Kork clinic September 3.
The clinic had been suspected of involvement in "baby trafficking" for
the purposes of adoption. Judge Sou Sopheary awarded custody of the children to the
orphanage, which arranges adoptions to the United States, and ordered Licadho to
pay AOA 5 million riel (about $1,300) in damages.
AOA's lawyer Chhit Boravuth welcomed the decision.
"The decision is right because AOA has signed an MOU with the Ministry of Social
Affairs, whereas Licadho only has the right to monitor human rights violations,"
he said. He did not know whether the children would now be placed for international
Licadho's acting director, Naly Pilorge, said her organization would appeal the case
and still had "grave concerns about the welfare of the children".
Lawyers for Licadho argued that the quality of care afforded the children was poor,
with a nine-year-old child employed as a nanny rather than being in school, and two
children having to be hospitalized following the raid.
The judge dismissed those arguments and complaints about AOA's documentation, which
included a birth certificate claiming one child had been born after the raid, which
took place after a Phnom Penh woman, Deung Pheap, sought the return of her two children
from the clinic.
Earlier this year the investigating judge and the municipal judge received letters,
apparently from Pheap, withdrawing her complaint. The criminal case for human trafficking
was dropped on March 21.
But on April 25 in a videotaped interview Pheap admitted that she had been offered
money in order to sign the letters. Pheap told Licadho investigators that two men
brought the letters to her in hospital where she was ill with HIV/AIDS and told her
if she signed them she would receive some money.
Pheap, who is illiterate, signed the letters but told the human rights workers that
the men never returned with the money.