Injured kids tell of harrowing escape from orphanage

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Police in Ho Chi Minh City took in four children on Monday who said they had been beaten and tortured by the staff of an orphanage in neighboring Dong Nai Province.

Concerned citizens brought the boys to the authorities after encountering them limping through the city streets, covered in injuries.

Nguyen Van Be Hai, 13, Le Gia Huy, 5, Diep Hieu Trung, 4, and his brother Diep Tuan Khoa, 6, have been "severely abused," local police said.

Huy and Khoa were admitted to Children's Hospital No.1 with broken arms. Following treatment, the four boys were sent to the Ho Chi Minh City Social Support Center.

Khoa said that, right before his escape, an employee named Thanh locked him in a room and beat him with a cane and a chain, breaking his arm.

Meanwhile Huy said he broke his arm while scaling the orphanage's two meter fence, during his escape.

Officials at the city center described the children as panicked, scared and difficult to understand.

Hai said he had been beaten many times by a teacher named Le Thi Thanh Lan at the Dong Nai Charity House, so he decided to escape last Saturday.

The three other kids followed him, he said.

Authorities in Dong Nai have suspended Lan for one month, pending an investigation of the childrens' claims.

Accoridng to Hai, another child named Quyet, 15, intended to escape as well but he remained behind fearing worse beatings if he were ever caught and brought back.

The four young boys walked for many hours. Passersby gave them foods and more than VND700,000. One individual led them onto a bus bound for HCMC, Hai said.

The boy said he has been seperated from his parents since he was little and was sent to the orphanage around five years ago.

Hai said he was forced to help the teacher with her shopping, cooking, childcare responsiblites.

He said he also cleaned the floors and tended the chickens.

Hai claims Lan often slapped him on the head and face. He further claimed that the woman kicked and punched the younger children.

Police noted a number of scars and scratchs on Trung, the youngest boy.

Trung allegedly told authorities that he was tortured and dunked in water for accidentally soiling his pants.

Hai said that Lan subjected another child, just over 3 years old to water torture many times. Once, he said, she kicked the child.

The boy said there were only five children left at the home. The older children had all escaped, he claimed, the others have been taken back home by their relatives.

"I got beaten even when I learned to behave," Hai said. "The teacher usually asked us to lie down to beat us all at once for no reason that I know."

The teacher, also vice chairwoman of the house, kept all gifts and money visitors gave the children, he claimed.

Nguyen Thanh Hien, chairwoman of the house and a senior member at Dong Nai Youth Association, asked that the children be returned at once.

The HCMC center has refused, saying that the children need to be taken care of and police must conduct a thorough investigation until the children are returned.

Hien refused to explain the children's injuries. "There's no official conclusion about their injuries yet so we don't want to say anything to the press."

But she said she will provide an answer later in a statement.

Nguyen Thu Sang, an HCMC child welfare official, said Hien had personally got the two injured boys discharged from the hospital and planned to bring them back to Dong Nai without consent from the HCMC authorities.

Sang and local police officials had to come and stop her.

Dong Nai Charity House was established in November 1998 in Bien Hoa, the capital city of Dong Nai. It has been advertised as "a home for unhappy children."

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