A British man who ran an unregistered charity outside of Phnom Penh was arrested by Royal Thai Police in Bangkok on Sunday after the London Daily Mirror exposed his prior conviction for the statutory rape of a 15 year old girl.
The convicted sex offender, David Fletcher, was running an unregistered project at the Stung Meanchey rubbish dump outside of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, delivering food to children there.
Fletcher fled to Thailand on June 25 to escape the authorities after the Mirror article, which said that he was using the dump project to get access to young girls, prompted an investigation into his activities.
He was apprehended in a Bangkok guest house by Thai police on June 27 for not advising immigration authorities about his previous criminal convictions in the United Kingdom, and is now in custody awaiting a decision regarding deportation.
Both the UK’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) and the Phnom Penh-based anti-human trafficking organisation, South East Asia Investigations into Social and Humanitarian Activities (SISHA), confirmed the details of Fletcher’s arrest.
The founder and executive director of SISHA, Steve Morrish, told Foreign Policy Journal, “this has been a very complex investigation that has required the close co-operation between international and local policing agencies, NGOs and members of the public. There are allegations of child sexual assault as well as fraud related activity by Fletcher.”
Before going into hiding, Fletcher told Foreign Policy Journal that it was “a crazy statement” to say that he posed a danger to children, but confirmed his prior conviction for statutory rape.
He also denied “using the dump to get access to girls”, but as reporter Andrew Drummond pointed out in the Mirror, he had “even bought himself a 17-year-old Cambodian bride for £150 who he met on the dump – sold by her own mother to pay off debts.”
Fletcher denied this in a response to the Journal, insisting that the girl was 24 and that he had not paid for her.
However, Scott Neeson, the founder of Cambodian Children’s Fund (CCF), confirmed to the Journal that the girl Fletcher was to marry, who is a student of CCF and whose birth certificate Neeson has viewed, was in fact only 17.
Neeson also confirmed that Fletcher had promised to pay the girl’s mother after talking the “dowry” down to $200 from $600, but the money was never paid.
Once exposed as a convicted sex offender, Fletcher broke off the engagement, took back the ring he had given the girl, and fled the dump.
The revelation of a convicted sex offender working in close proximity with young children has prompted plans for stricter laws governing charities and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
The new laws would mandate background checks for employees and ban any person with a prior history of sexual abuse from working for such an organization in Cambodia.
The Plight of Children at Stung Meanchey
Stung Meanchey Waste Dump, stationed 9km from the centre of Phnom Penh, has been home to hundreds of residents living on the premises or in surrounding slums since the 1960s.
It earned the nickname “Smokey Mountain”‘, due to the cocktail of chemicals, sewage, and household and factory waste sending a toxic black cloud affecting nearby residents when set alight.
In June 2009, government officials closed Stung Meanchey’s gates, citing the need for Phnom Penh to have a bigger facility. The new dump is located near Choeung Ek Killing Fields and is fenced off from the public.
Evading hordes of flies, residents or “scavengers” search through piles of rotting animal carcasses and household and factory garbage to find items such as the plastic component of used syringes, which are sold for one cent each.
During the rainy season, walking tracks, combined with contaminated water, presented an ongoing risk to the health of residents. These include respiratory problems resulting from the inhalation of toxic fumes, obtaining serious cuts and abrasions from sharp objects on the dump and walking paths, particularly at night. The average height of garbage mounds is estimated to be five metres.
When Stung Meanchey operated as the city’s dump, children and adults worked up to 16 hours per day to earn between $USD1-2. The estimated population of children varies, but it is reported to be more than 1,000 children.
While there is a shortage of medical facilities, clean water and sanitation, a greater focus is ensuring that the children have the opportunity to attend school. Although some children attend classes, low school attendance is a concern, as families residing on the dump cannot afford the necessary costs for books, uniforms and fees.
Cambodian-born Kilong Ung, the author of Golden Leaf: A Khmer Rouge Genocide Survivor told Foreign Policy Journal, “Cambodia paid a hefty price to survive the genocide that killed two million Cambodians. Now, my heart hurts knowing that Cambodian children are still living off waste dumps.”
Mr. Ung reiterated the importance of providing the youth of Stung Meanchey with the need to provide real options for the younger generation. “Children living in poverty are leaves at the mercy of the wind. Many children have been sold as slaves to support their poor families. These children have dreams. We can make their dreams real,” he said.