Cambodian Youth: Early Marriage, Early Divorce. Why?

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  • Roem Pheary
  • March 21, 2020 4:31 AM

PHNOM PENH--In these modern times, a considerable number of young Cambodians have gone through both a wedding and a divorce not too long after their new family has been established.

The reasons behind the separation of so many newlywed couples in Cambodia has become the focal point for various researchers. The factors involved are rarely universal, but certain trends emerge given the age at which Cambodians tend to start families. Immaturity, financial difficulty, family pressures and the overall sense of not being prepared for the commitments of family. 

Sitting under the roof of his house in Kampong Chhnang province, a very young man whose name was censored due to privacy concerns, had ultimately made his decision of divorcing his newlywed wife.

The hasty marriage between him and his wife has placed an unbearable burden on this young man that has brought immense emotional pressure into his and his wife’s lives. Sooner or later, the tipping point emerged. Divorce became the only viable path for their marriage. 

Speaking under the pseudonym of Dara, the young man elaborated further. “As a single man, you had the right to travel wherever you want. It became a very different thing when you have a wife. Whenever or wherever you travel, you have to inform her. No reason, no permission.

As for spending, when I was single I would spent, let’s say, 10,000 KHR a day. When you have a wife, you cannot just spend like before, since she holds the money. A wife can be more stressful than a bank. Any withdrawals have to be signed.” 

Although Dara’s experiences are not uncommon, typically it is women who suffer in Cambodian marriages. The 2019 Sustainable Development Goals Gender Equality Index placed Cambodia in 96th place out of the 129 countries it studied.

Similarly, the International Labor Organization found that women were typically took on 91.3 percent of all unpaid care responsibilities in the household; cooking, cleaning, childcare.

The study found women would spend on average 188 minutes per doing these tasks, compared to the average time spent on household maintenance by Cambodian men, which was just 18 minutes. 

Dara’s marriage was celebrated in 2016, during which he was a laborer at a textile factory. It all began with a romance between this young man and a female coworker which took shape just over a month before the wedding. 

After forming a family, things began to deteriorate. Dara, the eldest of his siblings, went spiraling into countless arguments and conflicts with his new wife.

Opposing decisions such as where to settle down, whether at the husband’s or the wife’s place, became untenable.

The lack of trust when it came to financial management and the subsequent disrespect that was thrown into these arguments all paved a path for the couple to break up in 2019, before they even had a chance to bare any children. A path which brought them new adventures in the renewed search for romance.  

Dara cannot fully escape his regrettable decision. “I did not have any clear plan for the future prior to our marriage,” said Dara. “It was a split second kind of intimacy. A little over a month later, my mother went out to negotiate and proposed the marriage and I got married the next year. At this point, we have not planned out anything clear.” 

Realistically, Dara is not the only young person to experience this kind of hastily-arranged relationship. Many of his friends who live in the same village found themselves in similar situations. Divorce has become a big issue for young Cambodians and it is not without consequence.

From a loss of time and money to mental breakdowns and unplanned children who grow up in the tumultuous environments produced by unstable marriages, the impact is multifaceted. 

In term of the statistical data in regard of the divorce rate in Cambodia, ThmeyThmey tried to make contact with Y Rin, a Phnom Penh municipal court spokesman, regarding the number of divorces in Phnom Penh, he declined to comment, as he did not have confirmed data to hand. 

In 2013 alone, based on data published by the Municipal Court of Phnom Penh, some 1,200 couples were filing for divorce, in which 70 percent of the cases were initiated by women. 

As described in Article 39 of the Law on Marriage and Family, “A husband or a wife is eligible to file for a divorce only if the reasons are sufficiently provided enough to clarify that each partner is unable to further sustain the family bond.”

Common reasons are to be listed as follows: 

1.    Abandoning household responsibility, failure to provide food, irresponsible parenthood. 

2.    Insults and physical violence toward spouse.

3.    Immoral behaviors

4.    Erectile dysfunction 

5.    Spouse separation exceeding one year

Chin Malin, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Justice, has told ThmeyThmey that he does not hold the statistical information regarding the rates of divorce. However, he confirms that every individual citizen has the right to file for divorce, if the procedure is lawfully executed. 

Malin went on to say that “In the legal perspective, the act of divorce is granted as a right among married couples.

Any party that is unable to further sustain the livelihood within the family can be granted the right to divorce. Physical violence is deeply discouraged. If the two parties disagree on living with one another, the act of divorce should proceed through the rights guaranteed by the constitution and other related laws.

In short, if enough reasons can be gathered, a divorce can be put into effect through the final decision of the judges.” 

Meanwhile Mech Samphors, a professor in philosophy at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, expressed several reasons that lead to the growing demand for divorce between young Cambodian adults.

“If a person wants to be involved in a married life, has that person spent enough time in developing and nurturing his or her own virtues? Does that person have the ability to endure the difficulties?” Samphors elaborated. 

“There is the old Cambodian folklore by the title of ‘A man who chooses his son-in-law’ which states that ‘the only person who can marry the father’s daughter must be a man of virtue.’ That is why the ability to withstand pain, the ability to hold patience, problem-solving skills and a level of emotional understanding are the crucial factors within a person’s mentality.

Couples who marry at their early age, as long as they practice virtue, they can avoid the constant conflicts which lead to divorce. It means that the emotional mentality is the key.I think that this modern generation of young adults lack many ways in being educated and developed in term of virtue, attitude and the overall mindset,” she said.

According to Samphors, many young adults blindly believe that marriage is a doorway to happiness, but in the real world, they realize that marriage actually opens up a lot of new problems for them. 

She clarifies further “Most people concluded wrongly about marriage. Many people view marriage as a gate that is decorated by colorful flowers, a wonderful and magnificent path, and that the couple may experience a whole new world of happiness, satisfaction and prosperity.

The truth is marriage is the gate to problems. Why is that? When we look at a life of a single person, that person only handles around 50 to 70 percent of all their problems. After being married, we introduce a new person to our life.

A new person who has his or her own problems, her or her own personality, emotions and feelings. So, we are not just trying to cope with our own existential crises, but we also volunteered to solve another person’s existential crises while living with them.”  

Samphors, an expert in social relations, suggested that young adults must be ready before making their way into the wedding ceremony.

Plan everything ahead, so that it might lessen the chances of divorce, and later on this will lead to fewer burdens on to yourself, your family and society.  


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