Three boys and a girl, one of whom is disabled, were removed from a Phnom Penh orphanage on Tuesday after its main donor accused its director of physical abuse and sexual misconduct.
The Bethel Children’s Home of Cambodia in Chbar Ampov district, which operates as both an English school and orphanage, has since been closed pending a police investigation, while the director has been arrested.
In a letter sent to the municipal social affairs department on Monday, Australian Chloe Flanagan, a longtime supporter of Bethel, alleges that Soy Srey On, 23, beat the children—aged 5 to 12—deprived them of food, kept them from school and forced them to watch her having sex with a male volunteer staff member.
Ms. Flanagan “said the director was having sex with her boyfriend and made the children watch, so [she] asked the [Social Affairs] Ministry to remove the children from the center,” said Em Chan Makara, secretary-general of the ministry’s Disability Action Council.
Mr. Chan Makara said the children had since told him of the abuse themselves.
“The children told me that the director had sex with her boyfriend and made them watch,” he said, adding that they also reported physical abuse.
Mr. Chan Makara said that after being removed from Bethel by social affairs officials, the children were placed in the care of M’Lup Russey, which offers residential care and is also located in Chbar Ampov.
Police in Chbar Ampov II commune questioned Ms. Srey On on Wednesday.
“She has only confessed to hitting the children,” said commune police chief Tep Bora.
“The children also told police that Srey On hit them. We are still investigating and she was sent to district police,” he said, adding that police were not seeking her alleged sex partner, Sras Ung, 24.
At the commune police station, Mr. Srey On told reporters that while she had sometimes provided meals late, the children in her care had never gone hungry, and that she only hit the them in order to teach them a lesson. She denied the rest of the claims.
“I never had sex with [Mr. Ung],” she said, adding that she also filed a complaint on Monday, to commune police, accusing Ms. Flanagan of hitting her over the head with a book two days earlier.
Ms. Flanagan, who frequently travels to Cambodia but does not live here, said she became aware of Ms. Srey On’s abuses while volunteering at Bethel over the past two weeks.
According to the Australian’s letter to the social affairs department, the accusations stemmed from neighbors and the children themselves, but were confirmed by her.
“There were accusations made of what was happening in the house and I witnessed things that were not correct,” Ms. Flanagan said via telephone, declining to comment further.
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