Chita, her mother, Chanti and sister Rosa on a rare home visit
In mid 2008 Leigh Ramsay, Senior Pastor at Brisbane-based Citipointe church tricked a materially poor Cambodian mother, Chanti, into putting her thumb print on a 'contract' that Chanti could not read and the contents of which she did not understand. Chanti believed that she was giving LICADHO (a prominent Cambodian Human Rights NGO) permission to take care of her daughters.
Five years later, Chanti and her family live in Prey Veng province, own two blocks of land, live in a spacious home, work a one hectare rice paddy and have a tuk tuk that Chhork uses to earn a modest income.
Citipointe has done nothing this past five years to help Chanti's family become self-sufficient. It has provided not one dollar of financial aid and refused to even pay for medical care when Chanti was 8 months pregnant last year and had a bout of pneumonia that threatened the well-being of her soon to be born daughter, Poppy.
Citipointe will not sue me for one simple reason. In an Australian court a defamation case would necessitate that Pastor Ramsay provide evidence that her action in removing Rosa and Chita from their family in 2008 was legal. It was not.
Chhork, Kevin, Srey Ka, Chanti and Poppy
The 2008 'contract', which makes no reference to the church keeping the girls until they were 18 (indeed it contains no terms and conditions at all and is not countersigned by anyone representing Citipointe), is fraudulent. It carries no legal weight - not even in Cambodia - a country in which there is no effective rule of law and in which politicians, the rich and powerful and NGOs such as Citipointe can break the law with impunity.
Citipointe insists that the church has another contract, entered into with the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and/or the Ministry of Social Affairs - one that gives the church the right to hold the girls against their parents' wishes until they are 18. Citipointe refuses to provide a copy of the contract to Chanti and Chhork, to myself (the family's legally appointed advocate) or to LICADHO - deeply implicated in the removal of Rosa and Chita in the first place. At least according to Pastor Ramsay.
The Ministries of Foreign and Social Affairs refuse to say whether either has entered into such a contract with the church or not. The question of the legality of Citipointe's actions is clouded in secrecy.
There is no law in Cambodia that enables an NGO to retain the custody of children contrary to the wishes of the parents - unless, that is, there is evidence that the parents' home is not a safe place for the children. There has never, in five years, been any suggestion that Chanti and Chhork's home is an unsafe environment for Rosa and Chita to live in. As anyone who visited their home, their village, would discover very quickly, the family home is safe and filled with love and laughter.
If the church pursued a defamation case and the facts of the matter became public knowledge, Pastor Ramsay would leave herself open to being charged with various 'deprivation of liberty' and kidnapping charges that carry jail sentences in Australia. Similar laws prevail in Cambodia but are not administered if, as is all too often the case, the human rights abuser pays the Judge.
A defamation case would also, inevitably, attract the attention of the media - members of which would start to ask Citipointe a lot of very awkward questions about the church's activities in Cambodia - questions that would alert donors and sponsors to the way in which the church uses lies and deception to exploit poor families such as Chanti and Chhork's for its own fund-raising purposes. It might also result in the media asking questions of other similarly fraudulent Australian NGOs in Cambodia - which is perhaps why the NGO community in Cambodia turns a blind eye to Citipointe's illegal activities.
Chanti, Kevin, James and Srey Ka
Chanti and baby # 6 Poppy
If you are rich and powerful in Cambodia (as Citipointe is) you can intimidate critics and journalists and break the law with impunity - knowing full well that the corrupt judicial system that prevails in this country will deliver the verdict required by whichever party in a court case pays the judge the largest bribe.
Chanti, Srey Ka, Kevin, James and Chhork
Chanti and Chhork's children are well fed - which is more than can be said for the 40% of Cambodians who are malnourished. And they go to school every day - though the school, like so many in Cambodia, leaves much to be desired and could use an injection of funds of the kind that Citipointe could contribute if the church adopted a policy of helping children within their communities. Instead, Citipointe, like so many NGOs in Cambodia, removes poor children from their families and house them in large institutions - creating the illusion that these children do not have families, both immediate and extended, and communities that can take care of them
Srey Ka, Kevin (a joker, with an aversion to clothing!) and James
Chanti and Chhork are very good and loving parents. And Chanti's mother, Vanna, is a doting grandmother who devotes each and every day either to caring for the children, or to cooking and cleaning. A recent X-ray revealed that she has a serious, and probably life-threatening, medical condition. Will Citipointe offer any financial or medical assistance? The answer is no. The church makes a point of offering no assistance at all for the family. In Oct 2008, Citipointe's Rebecca Brewer offered the following reason for not providing assistance - despite its promises to both myself and Chanti that it would do so:
And so it is, that NGOs such as Citipointe, can guarantee that the families whose children they 'rescue' remain in poverty - thus providing the NGO with justification for keeping the child - a child that can then be used to raise money, not for the family of the child but for the NGO. This form of exploitation is commonplace in Cambodia but even LICADHO, so quick to admonish the government for its human rights abuses, remains silent when it comes to NGO human rights abuses.
Amongst the various human rights abuses practiced by Citipointe is the church's brain-washing of Rosa and Chita to become Christians - audio-visual evidence of which I have plenty of. By what right does Citipointe to force Rosa and Chita to become Christians? By what right does the church refuse to allow these girls to participate either in the Buddhist ceremonies practiced by the rest of their family or in cultural celebrations of any kind that the rest of the family engages in - such as the recent Chinese New Year celebrations.
Citipointe church is engaged, no doubt for reasons that it finds noble and in accordance with its religious beliefs, in the alienation of Rosa and Chita from their family, their religion and their culture. Citipointe is not alone in this.
Kevin, aged 3
Srey Ka, Poppy and Chanti
Any genuine and self-respecting NGO that valued its reputation would be outraged by my various 'kidnapping' and 'stealing references'. They would not just be getting their lawyers to send threatening letters. They would be commencing proceedings. Citipointe does not and will not! The church counts on the silence of the NGO community, the silence of LICADHO and the lack of investigative journalism in Cambodia to keep the story of the church's kidnapping of poor girls out of the public eye. And Citipointe has succeeded admirably. So far!
Chhork and three of his sisters who live in the same village
Poppy, Jan 2014