Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Failure of the English language Fourth Estate in Cambodia Part 3

The Phnom Penh Post and Cambodia Daily have both decided not to look at the facts to see if what I have written about the illegal removal of Chanti and Chhork’s daughters by Citipointe church five years ago is true?
If what I have written is true, the church is guilty of ‘human trafficking’ in accordance with Cambodian law. If my allegations are demonstrably wrong it is entirely appropriate that both newspapers should ignore them and that Citipopinte should sue me for defamation.

Chanti, Kevin, James and Srey Ka

Unfortunately the English language media in Cambodia is not interested in asking the sorts of questions that would make it possible for their journalists, as impartial observers, to separate allegations (my own and Citipointe’s) from facts.
In relation to Chanti, Chhork and their daughters Rosa and Chita, there are plenty of indisputable facts if any journalist from the Cambodia Daily or the Phnom Penh Post had bothered to ask a few questions this past few years; had seen some value in talking with Chanti or in looking at the ‘contract’ Citipointe church induced her to sign on 31st July 2008. Had they done so they would have been able to determine, with the assistance of their newspaper’s lawyer, if this ‘contract’ did, indeed, give Citipointe the right to remove Rosa and Chita from their parents in mid 2008. And if, in the opinion of the newspaper’s lawyer, the ‘contract’ did not give the church the church the right, what was the legal basis for Citipointe’s removal of the children and holding them contrary to the express wishes of Rosa and Chita’s parents? Obvious questions for a journalist to ask, I would have thought!

Chhork, left with blue shirt, Chanti with Srey Ka, Kevin and James in the foreground.
This is Chhork's sister's wedding. Chhork's father is wearing the grey shirt

The story here, from a journalistic point of view, is not merely about what has happened to one family. The removal of Rosa and Chita and their enforced incarceration in Citipointe’s ‘She Rescue Home’ raises many questions about the legal rights of NGOs in general. Is it appropriate that NGOs are able to remove children from their families without oversight on the part of any body – either Cambodian or expatriate.
Citipointe can (and does regularly) throw the ball back into the court of the Ministry of Social Affairs. “It is not for us to determined when or if Rosa and Chita can be returned to their family,” the mantra goes. This is nonsense. And demonstrably so for any journaliast prepared to ask a few questions.
Fifteen months after Citipointe removed Rosa and Chita, twelve months after even the Ministry of Social Affairs acknowledged that the July 31st 2008 ‘contract’ carried no legal weight, MOSAVY explained the legality of the church’s actions thus:
1)       For the SHE Rescue project, bring the children under the control and protection before signing the agreement was possible because the organization was already registered with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation already. 

2)       For the SHE resuce project, according to the agreement made with the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, the organization has projected to help victims of human trafficking and sex trade as well as families which fall so deep in poverty. After questioning directly, the ministry believes that Rosa must have been in any of the above categories.

“Must have been!” The Ministry of Social Affairs had no idea which category Rosa and Chita fell into and made no effort to find out if they fitted into either category.  Yes, Chanti’s family had ‘fallen so deep in poverty’ in mind 2008 but by Nov 2008 they were running a tour boat and had a stall by the Bassac river. I filmed Chanti, Chhork and the rest of their family on their boat in 2008 and working their stall so this falls into the category of ‘fact’ and not merely an unsubstantiated allegation by myself.

Chanti and Chhork, with Srey Ka, Kevin and James

No visits were made to Chanti’s family home by representatives of MOSAVY and no conversations were had with the commune chief (who happens to be Chhork’s father) or anyone else in the community.  The Ministry of Social Affairs took zero interest in the rights or wrongs of Rosa and Chita’s removal and incarceration in 2008 and has zero interest today. Citipointe has been free to do what it likes with Rosa and Chita – as is the case with all NGOs in the business of ‘rescuing’ poor Cambodians. MOSAVY goes along with whatever an NGO tells it regarding the reasons why this child or that cannot be returned to their family.  “Must have been” is as specific as MOSAVY can be wen it comes to providing reasons for allowing Citipointe to effectively kidnap the children from a poor Cambodian family.

Chanti and baby # 6 - Poppy

NGOs hold all the power in their interactions with the people they are ‘helping’ or ‘rescuing’. Poor Cambodian parents like Chanti and Chhork have no power at all and do not have the money required to bribe whoever needs to be bribed to get their daughters back.

This is the big and more important story that Phnom Penh Post and Cambodia Daily journalists could look into – the experience of Chanti and Chhork being but one example of the many ways in which NGOs can disregard Cambodian law with the same impunity that applies to rich and powerful members of the Cambodian kleptocracy.

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