The return to their family of Rosa and Chita two days ago, stolen by Brisbane-based Citipointe church close to 6 years ago, should have been a joyous occasion. It was not. For reasons that I can only speculate about, Citipointe chose to make the re-integration as traumatic as possible for the girls.
Friday, May 30, 2014
THE BITTER SWEET TASTE OF SUCCESS
Rosa and Chita will survive. They will get over this latest human rights abuse inflicted by Citipointe church, but it will take time.
Before recounting the events of the last few days, I would like to acknowledge the important role played by the ABC. A couple of months ago Lateline’s Steve Cunnane ran a story that was seen by many more people than read my blog, giving the story ‘legs’.
One of those who viewed Lateline was Mr Michael Johnson, a Brisbane based barrister and former member of parliament. He offered to act pro bono on behalf of Chanti and Chhork and wrote to the church. (See below if interested) Michael’s letter set in motion a sequence of events that led to the bitter-sweet conclusion of two days ago.
Without the ABC, without ‘Lateline’ and ‘Four Corners’ and other such programs unafraid to ask difficult questions and hold people in positions of power accountable, our democracy would be greatly diminished. The ABC is a national treasure. And without lawyers with a pro bono passion to see justice done, the poor and powerless are all too easily screwed by the rich and powerful. Thank you ABC. Thank you Michael Johnson.
The release of Rosa and Chita back into their family two days ago should have been an occasion for unalloyed joy and celebration. It has not turned out that way. Rosa and Chita are both in shock. The church gave the girls no notice that they were about to be torn away from their ‘SHE Rescue Home’ friends, their school mates and teachers, their familiar surroundings and daily routines. The only world they have known for the past six years was destroyed by Citipointe’s lack of empathy (and perhaps even concern) for the impact this would have on an 11 and a 12 year old girl - both unceremoniously delivered back to their family, unannounced, in a materially poor village in which there are none of the first world amenities Rosa and Chita had become accustomed to, living in a Christian institution.
The re-integration of children back into their families after a long absence is a process that must happen slowly, step by step, with the emotional and psychological well-being of the children always foremost in the minds of the adults in control of re-integration. The lack of such a process here has resulted in Chita spending much of the past 2 days in tears. She misses her friends. She refuses to speak with anyone, has withdrawn into herself and appears to be very depressed. Rosa is coping better but only just. If Citipointe had set out to make the re-integration process as painful as possible for the girls, the church could not have chosen a better way to do so. It seems that Citipointe, in a panic that the church might be sued by Micharl Johnson for the illegal 2008 removal of the girls, chose to get rid of them poste haste – hoping that in so doing questions surrounding the legality of the church’s removal and detention would simply disappear. The church has put self-interest above the emotional needs of the girls during what Pastors Leigh Ramsey and Brian Mulheran knew in advance would be a difficult transition.
The re-integration process, after six years of institutional living, should have occurred slowly and in accordance with a well thought out plan. Rosa and Chita should have been allowed weekend visits to their family for a few months to give them a chance to become accustomed to the radical changes that were to occur in their lives. They should be allowed, now, to maintain contact with the friends they have grown to love within the ‘SHE Rescue Home’ this past six years. They should have been given the opportunity to finish one school term in their Citipointe school and start a new term in their new school. As it has turned out, I was two hours away from flying back to Australia when I learnt that Citipointe had delivered the girls back to their family two days ago – the parents, Chanti and Chhork instructed to place their thumb prints on a document (which they could not read) that absolves the church of any wrong-doing (read below is such details are of interest).
I had to cancel my flight to Australia and have spent much of today arranging for the girls to be enrolled in a new school.
It would seem that Citipointe has timed the return of Rosa and Chita to occur at a time when I was not in the country and to do it in such a way as to cause maximum distress to the girls themselves – thus making them want to return to the ‘SHE Rescue Home’.
After all these years of coming to Cambodia, knowing the country well and understanding the way corruption works (it pervades every aspect of life here), I am nonetheless astounded that Citipointe has been able to manipulate the Cambodian judiciary and the Ministry of Social Affairs in such a way as to leave the church free to steal the daughters of materially poor Cambodians with impunity. More shocking, perhaps, is the fact that such illegal removals can occur with the full knowledge and tacit approval of the Australian Ambassador to Cambodia and the Department of Foreign Affairs; that the Australian Council for International Development – whose job it is to see to it that AusAID-approved NGOs obey the law of their host country and the ACFIF Code of Conduct – refuses to even ask Citipointe, or its funding partner the Global Development Group, to produce documentary evidence of the legality of its 2008 removal of the girls.
The two beds in the ‘SHE Rescue Home’ occupied by Rosa and Chita will soon be filled by two other girls whose materially poor parents will have been duped into believing the church wants to help them. They will soon discover that they have lost all their rights as parents guaranteed by Cambodian law, by Australian law and by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The illegal removal of these two girls will be funded by AusAID approved tax-deductible charity dollars. The two girls will be re-packaged for gullible sponsors and donors as ‘victims of human trafficking’. This will result in vast sums of money flowing into the coffers of Citipointe, whilst the church pursues its other religious goal – turning these girls into young Pentecostals and, in the process, alienating them from their family, their community, their culture and their religion.
There are days when Cambodia breaks your heart. Today is one of them for me. The bitter taste is offset by the sweetness of seeing Chanti’s family together for the first time in six years.
Citipointe’s farewell gift to Rosa and Chita was a 50 kilo bag of rice ($35) and two second hand bicycles ($60).