The Phnom Penh municipal Department of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation is set to provide assistance to a widow with five children after one of them was beaten by a woman who the child had been living with and – at just five-years-old – working for as a maid.
The Cambodian National Council for Children (CNCC) has condemned the woman’s actions and the use of children as servants, calling for severe punishment of the suspect.
The woman alleged to have beaten the child was identified as Chan Thida, 37. She was living in a rented house in Toul Kork district’s Phsar Depot I commune when she assaulted the 5-year-old who was working for her as a live-in maid on May 20. The child was taken from her mother around one year ago.
“This act seriously violates the rights of children, especially the right to be safe from physical abuse and violence, which Cambodia has ratified and enshrined in the Constitution,” the CNCC stated.
The body called on authorities at all levels and the courts in particular to intervene and to punish the worst offenders in such cases to deter them and others from carrying out such acts in the future.
On May 23, commune police arrested Thida at the house in response to allegations that the woman had hit the child in the face with her hands and had also struck her with a metal coat-hanger on May 20.
District police chief Sok Heng said the suspect had been detained for questioning ahead of any further legal action taken against her.
“We are preparing a case file to send to the court on charges such as torture and other acts of violence like slapping the child’s face and hitting her with the metal coat-hanger causing serious injury,” he said.
He said they did not yet know why the woman had resorted to violence against the child or whether she had done so previously but they hoped to find out through the questioning stage.
He also stated that the child was currently in the care of social workers from the social affairs department and would receive appropriate medical treatment and counselling.
Department director Mom Chandany said her officials and the NGO Friends-International first sent the child to the Phnom Penh Referral Centre on the day of the incident, but she is currently being treated at the National Pediatric Hospital.
She said that after the incident, her department attempted to locate the victim’s mother, Keng Sophea, 36, who was staying at a different rental house in the capital.
“She is from a poor family. She gave her daughter to the suspect because she told her that she wanted to take care of the child. The mother had no idea that the woman would be violent towards the girl or treat her like a servant,” she said.
“The girl is not related to the suspect at all and, simply put, she was being used as a housemaid and even as a babysitter for the suspect’s newborn child. She’d lived at the suspect’s home for over a year,” she said.
Chandany said that for now her department and Friends-International would help take care of the girl and her family and they are now looking for a better living situation for them to stay at together.
“First we will help the mother with food and accommodations for her and her kids, but we’re also looking for ways to help her improve her life going forward,” she said.
Chandany noted that under Cambodian law, anyone having their own child work for others as a housemaid is illegal and the use of child labour is considered a form of human trafficking. In this case, the child’s mother consented to the arrangement out of ignorance and the belief that her child would be better off in that situation.
She said officials have no plan to legal take action against the girl’s mother.
“The father is gone, so if we convict her and put her in prison, the children will be left behind. We have to think this through. The reason this happened was because the mother didn’t understand the law or the potential dangers of what she did and so we need to educate her and have her sign a contract promising to not repeat the offence and then find ways to help her with her difficult situation,” she said.