Sex scandal rocks children’s charity

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Phnom Penh -

The Cambodian director of a school charity has been arrested for allegedly selling the sexual services of his teenage students to foreigners who disguised their payments as donations, local media reported on Thursday.

Veha Long, 32, was arrested along with his sister on Monday after a month-long investigation in the western city of Siem Reap, The Cambodia Daily reported.

“We found the suspect was providing two teenagers each time to have sex with foreigners who sponsored his association,” the paper quoted Duong Thavary, provincial anti-human trafficking police chief, as saying.

Thavary said nine girls aged 17 to 19 were found at Long's house when he was arrested, and police believed he may have been selling them for sex.

Police looked into Long after a complaint by a Danish woman who had been volunteering at the school and suspected illegal activity, said Thea Sophat, an official of the local social affairs department.

He added that the school was established seven years ago, but did not have the proper paperwork, according to The Daily.

Sophat also alleged the school's owner “provided teenagers for sex to foreigners”, the paper reported.

The website for the Underprivileged Children's School appeals directly to foreign visitors for funds to “make sure that most underprivileged Cambodia children are not denied an opportunity acquiring knowledge”. The school includes boarding facilities.

Visiting or volunteering at Cambodian orphanages is popular with well-meaning tourists and gap-year students, but has been discouraged by rights groups and Unicef who say it is exploitative. Young volunteers, often on break from university, mostly mean well but are “fundamentally supporting flawed institutions”, said James Sutherland, spokesman for Friends International.

“For most people it's a way of giving back, but it's actually harmful,” he told reporters last month.

Sutherland said he was also concerned about a lack of background checks on tourists visiting children, with several other instances of abuse at Cambodian orphanages and schools.

In June, a US missionary was handed a year's prison sentence for sexually abusing five boys at his orphanage.

Am Sam Ath, of the local rights group Licadho, told the Daily this was the first time he'd heard of a charity actually running a prostitution racket. - Sapa-dpa

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