Cambodia orphanage boss jailed for child abuse

Cambodian children have long been vulnerable to sexual abuse. Source: Wikimedia

A Cambodian court has jailed an orphanage director, a campaigner against child abuse, for just three years for committing “indecent acts” against children in his care.

Hang Vibol, 46, director of Our Home orphanage in Phnom Penh, was arrested last year on charges of abusing 11 children.

The former director of NGO Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE), which hunted down suspected paedophiles in Cambodia. The impoverished country has long had a reputation for attracting sexual offenders.

Vibol left the NGO in 2004 to manage Our Home orphanage, where the abuse of children took place. Former APLE colleagues helped the police investigation.

The Phnom Penh municipal court jailed for three years for “indecent acts against 11 minors aged under 15 years old”.

He was also fined about US$2,000 and ordered to pay compensation of US$7,500 in total to five of the victims.

Current APLE director Seila Samleang applauded the court’s ruling but was alarmed at the “lenient” jail term it issued.

“It is shocking that such case happened… because he worked actively to protect children’s rights for many years,” he added.

Vibol denied the allegations and said he would appeal against his conviction, saying the accusations were made maliciously.

“It is very unjust. I did not commit the allegations,” he said before being returned to prison.

Our Home orphanage was closed after Vibol’s detention last March and around 60 children were sent to other care homes.

Cambodia launched a campaign in 2003 to remove its unwanted reputation as a haven for foreign paedophiles.

Dozens of foreigners have subsequently been jailed for sex crimes against under-age victims or deported to face trial at home.

Campaigners claim sentences are still too lenient and many foreigners continue to abuse children with relative impunity.

Evidence of how wealth can buy immunity from law was demonstrated this week in Sihanoukville

where Phnom Penh has ordered the removal of all fences blocking public access along Independence Beach.

Tourism Minister Thong Khon made the announcement, adding that the public should work to keep the beaches clean.

Wealthy hotels and beach-front owners have blocked off entire beaches in a direct violation of national laws.

Sihanoukville governor, Y Sokleng, said the fences would be removed by next week but said the issue of private structures illegally built on beaches would take longer to resolve. Most of the offenders are influential hotel owners.

“We need to recheck all documents related to the buildings but the first step we agreed on was to remove all fences to allow residents access,” he said.

The government said it would crack down on hotels that restricted public access to beaches or built within 50 metres of the shore. There is confusion whether this refers to high- or low-tide lines.

Cambodia’s Ministry of Tourism is hoping to attract 6 million visitors to its coastline by 2020, 4 million of whom would be domestic tourists.

An estimated 650,000 foreigners and 2 million domestic visitors arrived in 2015, according to the ministry.