By Phan Soumy
A toddler on the path to recovery from a traumatic, publicized incident suffered another great loss: the death of his mother.
The mother of the two-year-old Cambodian boy—who was tortured in a series of about 50 videos causing local and international outrage—died in a motorbike accident two weeks ago, according to the boy’s father.
The family of five came to the country’s attention when videos of the two-year-old boy surfaced in December, showing a man using a stun gun on the boy’s head, backside, feet and genitals.
The boy is now living with his family in Preah Sihanouk province, after he had been liberated from the abuser, Nguyen Than Dung, a 34-year-old Vietnamese national, and his complicit boyfriend, Stefan Struik, a 53-year-old Dutch man. The toddler had been in the process of recovering from the abuse when he lost his mother last month.
The father, who will not be identified in order to protect his son’s identity, said over the phone that his wife died on October 20.
He began to sob as he described the accident. At about 2 p.m., he drove down National Road 4 with his wife and 8-month-old daughter when they crashed with another motorbike in the middle of the street.
He and his daughter were fine, but his wife had to go to the hospital in Sihanoukville to get three stitches in her head. She died later that day, likely from injuries to the back of her neck, he said. “I am very sad,” he said yesterday. “No one want to be separated.”
The family had settled into Preah Sihanouk province shortly after the videos of abuse went viral and made international headlines. The Child Protection Unit, a police organization supported by the Cambodian Children’s Fund, was assisting the family as they helped the young boy readjust to a safe home.
The videos later led Kampong Cham province police to arrest Struik, the CEO of cocoa plantation company Kamkav in Mondolkiri, where the family lived at the time. Struik is also a Cambodian citizen and goes by name Ly Heng.
Than Dung, who is seen torturing and sexually violating the toddler in videos, had escaped to Vietnam with the help of his boyfriend, but he was arrested days later in Ho Chi Minh city by Vietnamese police.
In July, the Mondolkiri Provincial Court sentenced Struik to two years in prison for failing to file a complaint for mistreatment of a minor. Than Dung, who is still in detention in Vietnam, was given an 18-year prison sentence in absentia for torture and acts of cruelty with aggravating circumstances.
The father is still working at a mango plantation owned by construction and agriculture tycoon Mong Reththy, who offered the family a place to live and three meals a day. He was still shocked by the sudden death of his wife, and he now bears sole responsibility for three daughters and one son, he said. “I am still very lost. I almost could not work.”