Phnom Penh: On 20th of March, Phnom Penh Municipal Court pronounced a verdict finding British national Mark Andrew Smith, 40, from Great Yarmouth, the United Kingdom, guilty and sentencing him to 2 year imprisonment with suspension in full for committing indecent assault with aggravating circumstances by Article 246 and Article 248 of the Criminal Code of Cambodia. The court also ordered him to pay a fine of 5 million Riels (approx. USD 1,250).
In July 2017, the Interior Ministry’s Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Department arrested Mark Andrew Smith on suspicion of sexually abusing a five-year-old girl who studied at the international school in Phnom Penh where he was working. The alleged sexual abuse was not reported until one of the local radio programs discussed the concerns of the parents on a live programme. APLE was asked to respond right after the broadcast.
Khoem Vando, APLE Child Protection Specialist, said “APLE responded to the report immediately and started looking into the matter with police, who acted very swiftly. The suspect was quickly identified at the school and sufficient evidence was found to justify the arrest of Mark Andrew Smith”.
Since 2015, the number of cases of institutional based child sexual exploitation has risen, and so has the number of victims identified. This form of exploitation occurs when an individual uses an institution that is intended to benefit the well-being of children to gain access to, groom, and/or sexually exploit children.
Seila Samleang, APLE Executive Director said after the verdict that “It is a grave concern to observe the growing incidence of child sexual abuse in private schools, orphanages and child-welfare organisations over the last few years. The situation is alarming and effective measures must be put in place to stop the problem. The lack of child safeguarding procedures at schools, for instance, and the fact that these institutions fail to conduct proper checks on their employees, can be the main factors which allow abuse to happen and persist”.
APLE has dealt with numerous cases in which individuals who had already been convicted for child sexual crimes in their home country came to Cambodia to find a job and were allowed to work directly with children in various institutions. These people were never asked to provide a criminal background check. This is a situation which requires immediate action.