Monday, March 31, 2014

Advice for Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, in how to keep NGOs accountable when they remove children from families

Chhork, Chanti and kids in the family tuk tuk

The Hon Julie Bishop
Minister for Foreign Affairs
House of Representatives, Parliament House

Canberra ACT 2600                                                                          

31st March 2014

Dear Minister

Citipointe has finally agreed to relinquish control of Rosa and Chita. Hopefully, the process of re-integration will be handled along the lines I suggested in my letter of 28th March. 

Neither Citipointe nor any other NGO should be allowed to remove children under  the circumstances that prevailed in 2008. Might I suggest that:

(1) All NGOs in receipt of AusAID approved tax-deductible funds provide the Australian embassy with copies of the MOUs they enter into with the Cambodian government.

(2) Copies of these MOUs, in Khmer, be provided to the parents or close relatives of families whose children have been removed by NGOs.

(3) Copies of these MOUs, in Khmer, be provided to the Village and Commune Chiefs of the children removed, along with the reasons for the removal.

Grandma Vanna with freshly bathed Kevin

(4) Children placed in the care of Australian NGOs, and their parents or close relatives, have their rights and responsibilities in relation to such MOUs explained to them in language they understand.

(5) Removed children and their parents/relatives be provided with a written document (in Khmer) in which their rights and responsibilities are outlined – particularly in relation to what the parents must do if they wish to have their children returned to their care.

(6) Removed children and their parents be provided with a toll-free phone number  within the Australian embassy to call if they believe that their rights are being breached in any way by the NGO into whose care the children have been entrusted.

(7) Children and their parents or relatives have explained to them that their complaints will be dealt with impartially and that they need not fear retribution from the NGO.

Chhork, Srey Ka, Poppy and one of the family dogs

Had such a system been in place five years ago, Chanti and Chhork could have lodged a complaint with the Australian Embassy in Nov 2008. With just a few questions the Australian Embassy would have discovered that:

(a) The 31st July 2008 ‘contract’ Pastor Leigh Ramsey tricked Chanti into signing was not a legal document; that Pastor Ramsey had lied when she told Chanti that the ‘contract’ gave the church the right to detain Rosa and Chita until they were 18.

(b) Citipointe had not entered into an MOU with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that gave the church the legal right to remove Rosa and Chita in July 2008.

(c) Citipointe’s lawyer and the police had threated to put both Chanti and Chhork in jail if they again attempted to ‘kidnap’ their daughters from the ‘SHE Rescue Home’.

Chanti talking  on her mobile phone and Kevin

(d) Rosa and Chita, the daughters of Buddhist parents, were being forced by Citipointe to go to a Christian church, in breach of AusAID guidelines vis a vis proselytizing.

(e) Chanti’s visitation rights to her daughters in 2008 were tied to her attending church also.

(f) Citipointe had limited Chanti and Chhork’s visiting rights to their daughters to a total of 24 hours each year – these visits to be supervised by church staff at all times.

There is much more that the Australian embassy would have discovered in Nov 2008 but the above would have, should have, set alarm bells ringing. If Chanti and Chhork’s allegations were revealed to be true the Australian Embassy would have been able to let Citipointe know, in no uncertain terms, that the church was in breach of AusAID rules and the ACFID Code of Conduct.

Chhork, Srey Ka and James

Had such due diligence been applied in 2008, five years of angst for Chanti, Chhork, Rosa and Chita could have been avoided. Had such basic guidelines been in place in 2008 Citipointe would have had to think twice before acting as it did in relation to Rosa and Chita’s removal and indoctrination and the threats of jail leveled at Chanti and Chhork. The same applies to other Australian based NGOs in receipt of AusAID approved tax-deductible funds engaged in proselytizing, the removal of children from their materially poor families and the use of these children to raise money through sponsorships and donations.

With no independent assessment or monitoring of the activities of NGOs in Cambodia all manner of human rights abuses are possible. There are many which take advantage of this fact to (a) proselytize and (b) exploit Cambodian poverty for their own financial gain.


The filmic evidence I have suggests that in Nov 2008 there was not one girl resident in the ‘SHE Rescue Home’ who was a ‘victim of human trafficking’; that all of the girls in the Home were from poor families whose parent (or parents) had been induced, as Chanti had been, into placing their thumb prints on a phony ‘contract’ and then told that they had signed away their daughters until they were 18 years old. How many of these parents, poor and powerless, with no knowledge of their legal rights, with no-one such as myself to advocate on their behalf, believe to this day that they have lost their daughters until they are 18? How many of these bereaved parents know that Citipointe church is presenting their daughters to potential sponsors and donors as ‘victims of human trafficking’ and reaping substantial financial rewards in the process?

Rosa and Chita's mum and dad with (from left) Kevin, James, baby Poppy and Srey Ka

The exploitation of Cambodian poverty by Australian-based NGOs should come to an end but this will not happen unless or until AusAID rules are respected, the ACFID Code of Conduct is adhered to and the recipients of aid are provided with the mechanisms whereby they can complaint about any human rights abuses they may suffer at the hands of NGOs.

best wishes

James Ricketson

Rosa and Chita's dad - a non-drinking, no-smoking, non-gambling gentle man who adores his children and whose heart has been broken by the loss of his two eldest daughters.

Rosa and Chita's healthy and very happy youngest sister, Poppy

Rosa and Chita's sister, Srey Ka, whom they only get to see rarely during visits supervised by church personnel

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