Phnom Penh: On March 20th, 2018, The Phnom Penh Municipal Court pronounced a verdict finding British national Mark Andrew Smith, aged 40, from Great Yarmouth, United Kingdom, guilty of committing indecent assault with aggravating circumstances under the Article 246 and Article 248 of the Criminal Code of Cambodia. The court sentenced him to a 2 year imprisonment with and ordered him to pay a fine of 5 million Riels (approx. USD 1,250).
In July 2017, the Ministry of Interior’s Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Department arrested Mark Andrew Smith under the 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 broadcast. APLE was asked to respond right after the broadcast.
Khoem Vando, APLE’s Child Protection Specialist, declared “APLE responded to the report immediately and started looking into the matter with the 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’s 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 into action 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 countries 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. APLE advocates for immediate action in this regard.