Death in Cambodia leaving teenager alone
January 11, 2020 2:38 PM   Subscribe

Relative in Cambodia passed this week, leaving a teenage daughter. All sorts of complications. Looking for good advice and Cambodia specific suggestions to help the daughter.

My Uncle-In-Law passed yesterday (not a relative I’d ever met or talked to - condolences appreciated but really not needed). He had a 16 year old daughter who was living with him. The mother has apparently “taken off” / abandoned the daughter and isn’t expected to return. They were not married but had been together for ~20 years.

This is in a small village about 2.5 hours drive North East of Phnom Penh (somewhere near Kampong Cham). The situation is a little grim. Apparently the body is still in the house with “a fan on it” till cremation can occur early next week. The daughter is by herself (family wise) and by all accounts is a typical teenager who doesn’t have a clue what to do now (and why should they?)

And this is where it gets complicated:
- The father is a NZ and UK citizen. All relatives on his side are in NZ or the UK, and my wife and I are in the US. No one in the family is anywhere near Cambodia.
- His brother (my wife’s father) is in NZ, well past 80 years old, and in no position to travel.
- Several of the family are friends with the daughter on Facebook and will be talking to her by phone this weekend.
- We are very concerned about her safety and what happens to her now
- it is all going to end up very messy - the father likely owned real estate in NZ and had financial assets there, but was super disorganized and the chance of their being a Will anywhere is low
- She apparently doesn’t have a passport but may (we believe) qualify for NZ citizenship by descent (longer term goal to get for her - not a short term immediate consideration)

Immediate suggestions welcome - especially any advice from folks who know Cambodia - on how to best help her and what organizations / support there may be in Cambodia.

What I told my wife to communicate to the daughter was:
- Take care of herself as her first priority and be somewhere safe (e.g. with a trusted friend’s family and tell us who and where)
-If she needs cash to get a hotel room or to get through the next few weeks etc we can find a way (Western Union or something like that) to do that
- Be very careful with the body and disease (not an easy message to give a grieving kid but it’s in the 90’s day time temperature over there at the moment....and she shouldn’t be near the body in that situation)
- Secure any documentation and assets she has and be on her guard for scammers or people trying to take advantage of her.
- Absolutely make sure she gets copies of death certificates and all other documentation - that will be critical to resolving what could be a difficult estate - as well as potentially getting her a passport

Family in NZ are talking with the NZ and UK consulates / representatives in country as well - but we expect limited help at the moment. I suspect someone from the family will travel from NZ to Cambodia - but that could be a days to weeks out.
posted by inflatablekiwi to Human Relations (22 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
New Zealand and/or UK embassy. Minor alone in house with deceased in 90f is a safeguarding issue
posted by The Last Sockpuppet at 3:28 PM on January 11 [10 favorites]

Totally agree - that’s in progress. Challenge is she’s not actually a UK or NZ citizen (May be eligible but process not even in-flight yet). And it seems like rural location, plus weekend, and other factors mean there is limited things that they can suggest / do.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 5:13 PM on January 11

NZ does not have an embassy in Cambodia. UK does and they have a 24 hr emergency number on this page. Has anyone tried calling them for help?

Is she in school? If she is, perhaps the school could help her temporarily.

Is her mother Cambodian? Does she have Cambodian relatives who can help? If she does not have Cambodian family she should not have to wait in Cambodia while NZ and/or UK determine if she's eligible for citizenship. She has, I assume, relatives in NZ and UK who would be able to take care of her until she's old enough to be on her own, and she should go to them. It would be best if a family member could go help her through all this and take her home with them even if she has to travel on a Cambodian passport.
posted by mareli at 6:25 PM on January 11

Can she travel to her uncle, at least temporarily? That would be my initial goal. Get her a Cambodian passport, on an emergency basis if they allow for it, and get her out of that nightmare scenario.
posted by praemunire at 6:30 PM on January 11

Is she part of any type of religious community in her village? If so, maybe they have someone who can help her?
posted by mccxxiii at 6:35 PM on January 11

What religion are they? If they are Buddhist, then she needs to go to the local temple and ask for help to do the cremation and the rites. If they were Christian, the local church will help her. Orphans asking for help is not uncommon, and someone will step in and help. The cost should be a couple of hundred max, not thousands. Christians get buried in a simple grave, later fixed up fancier, buddhists get cremated in a several day ceremony. The death certificate is tricky because you need to get it from the local songkat and from the village head as well, and basically copies of everything you can.

I would go to the Australian consulate - they handle nz stuff sometimes as a favour and a grieving orphan might be under their wing. They’re in Phnom Penh.

If you have to translate documents, use pyramid in Phnom Penh because no one will dispute their translations. And get everything photocopied and translated if you can.

She needs her birth certificate and her family book to get a passport. If she doesn’t have her family book, then she will need to be added to a family book of another relative. A passport is %180 I think but you can pay for expedition. The family book is a green file folder which lists all the relatives in the household and is the most crucial document. Birth certificates and be issued by the songkat - local authorities, or at a police station, pretty easily, but a family book is a struggle to get. It’s easier to have her added to a relatives.

I’ve looked into guardianship for Cambodian kids before. If this is going to take a while, I would suggest short term, get her into English lessons and school in Phnom Penh, put her with either a relative who can stay in Phnom Penh for the transition or a good host family you have screened and are paying to help her transition and give her a sort of limbo time.

If you want to me mail me for more specifics, I can dig through my list for contacts and answer specific questions. My kids had a funeral but we had a lot of relatives to help. I’ve done paperwork - the UN are useless for this, but I’ve found the Australian embassy quite helpful.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:38 PM on January 11 [23 favorites]

Oh and the Will part doesn’t count for much in either Cambodia or I think on my experience in NZ. Children if sole beneficiary generally inherit automatically. Almost no-one has a will. The land title does matter if there’s paper and if she leaves the village, she may be renouncing her ancestral claim to the land by default, so she probably needs to make sure something gets written down and signed/thumbrinted with the local village chief to say that she is renting it or temporarily going away and to make sure that her father’s house is passed over to another relative preferably or someone else. Squatter rights are a big deal in rural Cambodia. If she has paper, lots of photographs of the land and documentation, and an agreement with whoever takes over, and she visits regularly (also good for her psychologically) then she’s more likely to retain her rights to her Cambodian inheritence. NZ law for property will be way simpler if she’s the sole heir.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:42 PM on January 11 [8 favorites]

Thanks all. We have a call with her in next hour or so and hope to clarify a few things.

She has no passport we believe - not even Cambodian. If she did we’d be sending her money to jump a flight to NZ immediately. Hey mother has literally abandoned her best we can tell.

Everything I’m hearing is that embassy’s aren’t going to be much help - given she’s not a citizen anywhere other than Cambodia currently. They may have some advice but not much else.

Slightly good news is that the body may have been removed by authorities now. Hope to learn more.l about that on the call.

Seems like her father does own substantial property in NZ - relatives there just got physical access to his home here - if we can get things squared away - long term she may be in the position of a dramatically life changing inheritance - but our goal remains to keep her safe in short term so we can figure that out and help her navigate this.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 6:42 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]

I just spoke with my daughter, it’s the village chief who is the person to contact. Does anyone in your family speak Khmer? He is the one who should be organising the funeral and making sure she is taken care of in the immediate short term, that is his responsibility. If you can get his contact details from her, you can talk directly to him and organise details.

For getting money to her in the province if she doesn’t have cash, western union. She will need some form of ID. If she has absolutely none yet, not even a birth certificate, you will need to pass money to a trusted person she nominates and make it clear that a relative is shortly coming to follow up.

Most Cambodians don’t have passports, that’s normal. They use other ID internally, and travel across Thai/Vietnam borders without them informally. She needs the other ID to get a passport.

Even if she doesn’t have a passport, if she has a birth certificate identifying her as his daughter, she is a UK citizen and an NZ citizen by descent so the embassies still should and need to be involved.

Ask her who in her village has been kind and helpful to her. Do not mention her inheritance in NZ at this point. You’d be making her a target. Right now she’s in a state of shock anyway and should be with familiar people and getting through the funeral.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:11 PM on January 11 [10 favorites]

Dorothyisunderwood - super helpful - thank you - passed all that info to my wife.

My wife is about to jump on a FaceTime call in a few minutes with the daughter and see what current situation is - May well take you up on a direct MeFi mail.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 7:27 PM on January 11

Please keep us updated as you can. This sounds like an awful situation for her.
posted by Alensin at 7:52 PM on January 11

Will try to - situation changing dramatically. Apparently the police have the body now - which is not apparently great for getting funeral arranged and takes this out of the village chief’s hands.

Oh and surprise the mum is back.....and comms with the daughter becoming difficult - arranged call dropped out suddenly.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 8:10 PM on January 11

And from bad to worse. The local police apparently want USD$4000 to return the body to the village, issue a death certificate, and allow a funeral. Apparently this is “what they do when a foreigner dies.”
posted by inflatablekiwi at 8:19 PM on January 11

I'm currently in Phnom Penh with a friend who happens to be friends with the Australian deputy ambassador here. Would you like me to put you in touch?
posted by katie_w at 11:39 PM on January 11 [12 favorites]

Thanks Katie_W - some positive developments occurred over night US time. UK embassy came through in relation to the body and it’s being moved from Police to a decent funeral home the embassy has worked with apparently.

In addition by a small miracle - my wife (who was a practicing lawyer in NZ when she last lived there) gave the deceased some advice he miraculously (and very surprisingly!) followed - so we have a recent Will found now in NZ (with my wife named in it to help the executors). So we fell like we are making some progress.

It’s middle of the night in Cambodia at the moment so suspect I won’t have other questions till late today

Thanks all who have offered help or MeFi mailed. I’ll update this thread when I can.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 10:15 AM on January 12 [12 favorites]

Quick question if in case anyone knows: what mobile payment platforms are common in Cambodia. Seems like Darapay is very common - but not sure we can send money from outside Cambodia into that network (all agents I can find are in country)

We may need to get small batches of money to the daughter without the village or the mother being aware (trying to avoid her having to go to a local agent to collect the funds). She has a Apple phone and is tech savvy.

Could do cryptocurrency I guess but don’t want to go down that road unless necessary. Basically looking for the equivalent of Venmo for Cambodia.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 2:57 PM on January 12

Let me rephrase my question as it turns out there are lots of mobile payment wallets in Cambodia (thanks Google search!) and we are finding out if the daughter has any on her phone. I guess my question is if anyone knows if any of them support inbound international payments in anyway. I am aware of Western Union as an option as well. My hope is that the daughter can use an existing common mobile wallet so that having some money in it or using it is not out of the ordinary (so that money sent can easily be spent by her without it being blindingly obvious she has access to substantial cash from overseas)
posted by inflatablekiwi at 3:11 PM on January 12

Unless she has a joint account or her own account in existence already with a bank it's going to be tough. If she had a bank account she alone can access, wire the money in directly and tell her to make sure she accesses it alone and withdraws small amounts only. At 16, she falls into the grey area of still possibly being under her mother's legal custody. You really really need to speak with a Cambodian family lawyer soon in Cambodia because 16-18 is a weird legal age for rights and emancipation. We had custody issues with teenagers that age over forced marriages and consent issues a lot. Talk to someone the embassy recommends.

In phnom penh there are some atms that allow cash withdrawals from bitcoin i think and places take apps but its still cash cash cash 99% of the time outside of tourists.

Western union is everywhere which is why it's recommended and only needs one form of ID for collection. If you are sending money within Cambodia, if someone in the extended family has a local account, she can set up a WINGS account which is easy to top up and does have a lot more flexibility for payments.

If she has some cash on her now, you can book hotel and travel to phnom penh for her online, and then western union money to her there for spendung cash when she arrives. Its best to do a week at a time than overwhelm her.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 3:41 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]

This is a year to date experience, happy to be corrected but i googled and paypal remains as useless online in Cambodia as ever. Maybe another provider has stepped up. My kid just laughed at the idea of using her phone to pay in the province where she goes every 2 months.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 3:44 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]

Seems like she has a Wing account and we can use to send in funds to it. We are doing a smaller $ test to see if that works and the time it takes etc. Fingers crossed. We also found an ex-pat Facebook group that may be useful as well.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 7:36 AM on January 13 [2 favorites]

As a quick update - things progressing. We got some money to the daughter via Western Union. Plenty of other dramas now to come but we feel the daughter is safe currently .

Appreciate the off thread support!
posted by inflatablekiwi at 11:10 AM on January 14 [5 favorites]

I’ve been wondering how she’s doing. Would you mind sharing, inflatablekiwi?
posted by ocherdraco at 6:23 PM on April 11 [2 favorites]

« Older how do I shorten the sleeves of sweatshirts and...   |   Loosing the connection Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments