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Cultural barriers to AIDS, morality education

The effect of baby boomers on HIV/AIDS is another issue yet to be researched,

but a boom in adolescents is expected to inevitably create a boom in sexual activity.

Girls typically become sexually active at age 16 (usually after marriage) and boys

at 18, according to the National Center for HIV/AIDS Deputy Director Dr. Hor Bunleng.

Yet he is confident that an outbreak among the young is not imminent.

"Even though they are a big population, they are not necessarily in the high

risk group because only some adolescents have high risk behaviors, " he said,

citing recent survey data showing a sharp decline in HIV among 15 to 19-year-olds.

However NGOs are still reporting large numbers of infected adolescents and don't

have the resources to deal with more.

Sebastien Marot of the street kids NGO Friends/Mith Samlanh says that the number

of HIV/AIDS cases noted among his clients are increasing and are typically in the

baby-boomer 12-14 age group.

"You invest so much in training the next generation and they get zapped by HIV

and all that [investment] is just wasted," he said.

Frank and open HIV education remains a problem among the young because of "cultural

barriers", said BunLeng.

"We are putting some effort into [education programs] but we are running behind

the scene [in terms of teen sexual behavior]. In Cambodian society we have some barriers

to talking about sex openly... we can't put as much as we'd like in the curriculum

and we can't use some words [related to anatomy and sexual activity]," he said.

A small number of Cambodia's under 20s are trying to transform their society, make

it more democratic, accountable and transparent through youth and student organizations,

but they see their own peers as one of the biggest obstacles.

"Corruption makes some students not bother with studying because it's easy to

get rich without bothering," said high school student Bunna. "We see engineers

and doctors who graduate but have no jobs or money and end up working as moto drivers.

The people who don't have enough backbone think 'it's easier to be corrupt, why study'?".

The violence among Cambodian youth and the popularly perceived moral rot of the society

due to problems such as corruption are an increasing source of worry for student

leaders and activists.

In September 2000, the Khmer Youth Association (KYA) and five other youth organizations

held a seminar to discuss the threat that Cambodia's culture of corruption and impunity

was posing to the Kingdom's youth

"The problem in Cambodia is that it's hard to find a good role model. It's not

a matter of choosing a good example, but an example who is 'not-so-bad'," said

KYA President Yong Kim Eng.

According to Kim Eng the perception among youth of the immoral nature of their society

extends to the political realm, which for many 20-somethings is synonymous with nepotism,

corruption and cronyism.

"Most young people aren't interested in politics, " said Kim Eng, "but

many young people hope if they participate in politics they will find a good job

and [worry] that if they are outside politics they will have little chance [of success

in life]."

Kim Eng also worries that the generation that will take positions of power in the

coming years has already forgotten the lessons of the Pol Pot years.

"People who live in the remote areas know about the Khmer Rouge because sometimes

they came into villages and they killed people, but I think that the young people

who lived [in cities] after the KR regime, some of them don't believe it and don't

believe the people who lived in that regime and don't care about it," he said.

Despite constituting the majority of the population, Cambodian youth are generally

excluded from positions of influence. To counter this, Kim Eng calls for young people

to be given a more meaningful role in Cambodian politics and society.

"The government should develop an effective policy for youth," he said.

"They use young people as instruments for their politics but they don't give

them posts in their government or parties."

Describing Cambodia's young people as daily victims of human rights abuses through

an impoverished and corrupt education system, Kim Eng says that the government has

yet to take the concerns of its baby boomers seriously.

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