The Age reports…
“Authorities have raided an Australian-run orphanage in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh and taken away 21 children, some as young as one.
Police and government officials had received reports of beatings and neglect at the Love in Action orphanage founded by 71-year-old Australian Ruth Golder.
Mrs Golder, a former nurse who has worked with children in Cambodia for 13 years, admitted to Fairfax Media after the raid the orphanage was not registered with the Cambodian government, but denied the allegations of abuse and neglect of the children.
”I love the children with all my heart,” she said, sobbing, after the raid by 17 government officials accompanied by Cambodian police and welfare staff from the anti-human trafficking and exploitation organisation SISHA. ”I will fight to get them back.”
The orphanage is supported by the Christian Outreach Centre, which has churches throughout Australia. It receives most of its funding from Australian donors and organisations.
The 21 children were taken away during the raid on Friday that was witnessed by Fairfax Media. The whereabouts of seven other children who were living at the orphanage is unknown.
Government officials ignored Mrs Golder’s pleas not to take away a six-year-old boy she had named Isaac after he was brought to her by his mother to care for when he was just 10 days old. She said she was the boy’s legal guardian. ”They didn’t even tell me where Isaac was going,” she said.
The raid comes as the Cambodian government moves to tighten control of up to 500 orphanages in the country that have been largely unregulated for decades.
The number of orphanages in Cambodia has increased 65 per cent since 2005 and 72 per cent of the children living in them still have parents. More than half of the orphanages are unregistered.
SISHA boss Eric Meldrum, a former British police detective, said the raid on Love in Action came after weeks of reported problems at the orphanage, including the flight of five children who walked the streets of Phnom Penh at night to reach a children’s safe house.
”The children had reported abuses, which the police are investigating … there was clearly things going wrong there,” he said. ”This is a big step for the Cambodian government. It shows they are serious about moving against orphanages that have done what they liked without answering to anybody for years.”
Several other Australian-run or funded orphanages are under investigation by Cambodian officials, government sources said.
Mrs Golder, from Hamilton, Victoria, said Cambodian officials had visited the orphanage five days earlier and ”accused me of human trafficking”.
She said she was shocked by the allegation. The visit prompted five of her staff to ”run away”.
Mrs Golder admitted she did not have all the required documentation for the children to stay with her.
”I needed a stamped [document] … I didn’t know that,” she said. ”Some of these children had been scavenging in rubbish dumps before I took them in.”
The decision to take the children away from Mrs Golder followed an investigation by SISHA and several government departments.
A statement by SISHA said: ”Investigators found that the institution failed to meet minimum standards in several regards – the food standards were sub-par, some children were visibly ill and not taken to a doctor, the facility was dirty, sewerage was blocked and the living quarters overcrowded.”