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Cambodia: Valentine's Day Sparks Controversy

Celebrating Valentine's Day is relatively a recent phenomenon in Cambodia. It was only in the past decade when Valentine's Day was celebrated in the country. Though Valentine's Day has gained much popularity among the younger generation, its definition and practice remain controversial. They spark an alarming attention especially on the wrong practice associated with this global occasion.

Many writers regret that the meaning of Valentine's Day has been misinterpreted. Chhay Sophal, in his article on ” ប្រយ័ត្ន​ទិវា វ៉ាឡិនថាញដេ ក្លាយ​ជា​ទិវា​ស្នេហ៍កម្មជា​ទិវា​នៃ​ក្តី​ស្រឡាញ់” [Be Warned of Valentine's Day to Become a Regrettable Eve], emphasized that the youth have confusingly transformed the meaning of Valentine's day:

ដោយ​ឡែក​នៅ​កម្ពុជា ​វប្បធម៌​នេះ​ក៏​មាន​ប្រជាប្រិយ​ផង​ដែរ​ចាប់តាំង​ពី​ឆ្នាំ ២០០០ មក​ពិសេស​ក្នុង​ចំណោម​យុវវ័យ។ អ្វី​ដែល​គួរ​ឲ្យ​កត់​សំគាល់ គឺពួក​យុវវ័យ ​មួយ​ចំនួន​បាន​យក​អត្ថន័យ​នៃ​ទិវា​នេះ​ទៅ​ជា​ទិវា​មួយ​សម្រាប់​គូស្នេហ៍​ទៅ​វិញ ដោយ​បក​ប្រែពាក្យ វ៉ាឡិនថាញ ដេ (valentine day) ថា​ជា​ទិវា​សង្សារ​ទៅវិញ ដែល​ធ្វើ​ឲ្យ​ពួក​យុវវ័យ​ខ្មែរ​យល់​ខុស​វក់​នឹង​សង្សារ មិន​បាន​គិត​ពី​មិត្តភក្កិ​ដទៃ ពិសេស​ឪពុក​ម្តាយ​បង​ប្អូន​របស់​ខ្លួន។

Valentine's Day has become popular among young generations in Cambodia since 2000. Strikingly, some young people have wrongly defined this Valentine's Day as the “Eve for Lovers” instead of “Eve for Love” with the latter referring to love for parents, relatives and friends in general.

Sophal also highlighted the negative impact resulting from the misinterpretation of Valentine's Day. This includes sexual misconduct among young lovers, which is a violation of Cambodian culture, especially for unmarried couples. Another impact is the possible harm on the reproductive health of young women.

ជា​ការ​ពិត យើង​មិន​ទោមនស្ស​នឹង​ក្តីស្រឡាញ់​របស់​យុវវ័យ​នោះ​ទេ ប៉ុន្តែ​អ្វី​ដែល​យើង​ព្រួយបារម្ភ​នោះ​គឺ​ស្រ្តី​វ័យ​ក្មេង​អាច​បាត់បង់​កិត្តិយស អាសោច​កេរ្តិ៍ដោយ​តែ​បាត់​បង់​ភាព​បរិសុទ្ធ។ ជាង​នេះ​ទៅ​ទៀត ពួកគេ​អាច​ប្រឈម​នឹង​ការ​មាន​ផ្ទៃពោះ​ដោយ​ចៃដន្យ ប្រសិន​បើ​ការ​រួមភេទ​ជា​មួយ​បុរស​ជាសង្សារ​នោះ​មិន​បាន​ប្រើប្រាស់​ស្រោម​អនាម័យ​ឲ្យ​បាន​ត្រឹមត្រូវ ហើយ​ការ​មាន​ផ្ទៃ​ពោះ​នេះ​គឺ​ឈាន​ទៅ​ធ្វើ​ការ​រំលូត​កូន ដែល​ប្រការ​នេះ​ពិត​ជា​ធ្វើ​ឲ្យ​ស្រ្តី​វ័យ​ក្មេង​ប្រឈម​នឹង​បញ្ហា​សុខភាព​បន្តពូជ​ទៅ​ពេល​អនាគត។

Though we do not mind about the youth's love affairs, we are much concerned about young women whose dignity will be damaged given the fact of their lost virginity. Even worse is that they may be pregnant and it may lead to abortion. This will be harmful to women reproductive health.

Sophal further emphasized that young women are more prone to HIV/AIDS  if their sexual partners do not use condoms. They can also be victimized by pornography scandals that may jeopardize their future and the reputation of their family. Thus Sophal warns young women to be careful not to fall into the love trap during this Valentine's Day. He advised that the youth will be in a better position to celebrate this occasion with their beloved parents, relatives or friends in a proper manner.

These observations have been shared by Vutha Morn who questioned the link of culture identity and cultural preservation while Sidaroth Kong wrote in her Facebook status that “Valentine's Day and Controversy Khmer Culture: Is sleeping with your partner the only way to show that you love him?”

According the a cross-sectional research on “Love and Sexual Relationship: Experiences and Plans of Middle Class Young People Regarding the Upcoming Valentine's Day In Phnom Penh in 2009″ done by Soprach Tong, who surveyed 458 youths aging from 15 to 24, majority of them do not understand the background of Valentine’s Day. Asked if the middle class young people in Phnom Penh plan to be sexually active on the upcoming Valentine’s Day, Soprach found that:

“In the results, 12.4 percent of all respondents answered that they expect to be able to have sex on the upcoming Valentine's Day, and more than 14.3 percent of young people in a couple answered that they expect to be able to have sex with their sweethearts on that day too, and a few couples plan not to use a condom. Meanwhile, more than a third (39.5%) of the young people in a couple surveyed (n=38) stated that it will be the first time for them to have sexual intercourse. And the other two thirds (66.6%) of young males in couple (n=25) will pressure or force their girlfriend on having sex using many devices, if they do not agree. And at least seven percent of young males who answered that they expect to be able to have sex are open to being involved in Bauk [Gang rape, a slang term occurs after one (or two) youth(s) negotiate a price with a sex worker, or solicit a woman’s affection and arrange a proposed destination for sexual intercourse. Then the woman is taken to a hotel or guest-house, where numerous other young men are waiting, or will soon arrive] on the upcoming Valentine’s Day”

From this result, the author urged for attention on sexual consent, sexual reproductive health and HIV/AIDS programs which target young people in the urban areas of Cambodia.

Given these alarming facts and concerns, the Cambodian Ministry of Women's Affairs, initiated five-minute spots educating the teenagers about the “meaning of the Valentine's day” in order that the young will be encouraged to expresses their love to family first, followed by teachers and then friends. This educational spot which aims to warn Cambodian teenagers against engaging in promiscuous sex has been welcomed by majority of students, teachers, and bloggers.

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