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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Survey dodges tricky nationality question

Survey dodges tricky nationality question

CAMBODIA'S first demographic study in 34 years beginning next month will reach more

than 20,000 families - but still the vexing problem of nationality has had to be

avoided.

A three-person committee has recently finalized what questions will be asked in the

study, which will be done in 667 villages in all provinces except for Oddar Meanchey

and Preah Vihear. It will be done in the last week of March.

The purpose of the survey is to train staff and find out if the questions asked -

which are likely to be very similar to those in the full census planned for 1998

- produce the sufficient and relevant data.

The study will give important information on the structure of the population by age,

sex, literacy, fertility, mortality, recent migration and housing that has been lacking

since the last census.

But the survey will not ask a direct question about nationality. The three committee

members - Vincent Fauveau and Rama Rao of the UN Population Fund, and National Institute

of Statistics (NIS) director Hou Teng Eng - found that the lack of a nationality

law made asking the question impossible.

The committee instead agreed to ask about the mother tongue.

"We only ask for the mother tongue as some other countries do to focus on the

cultural criteria," said Fauveau. "We will not ask whether the parents

or the grand parents lived in Cambodia."

The lack of a nationality law meant it was not possible yet to define who is Khmer

and who is not, said Fauveau. Teng Eng agreed, saying he would have liked the question

to be answered had it been possible.

"There could be different definitions depending on which criteria we focus on:

cultural, linguistic or religious," Fauveau said.

Khmer Institute of Democracy executive manager Lao Mong Hay said: "Back in 1962,

after the last census, there was a controversy over who was a Chinese, who was a

Vietnamese. Today, I would like to avoid all controversy or subjective questions

on this matter."

Even though the survey would not count the precise population, mapping the country's

demographic progression for the next 20 years could be possible, Fauveau said.

"The figures on the ethnic groups that political parties and ministries give

today are not based on any statistically valid studies," he said.

The 900 survey officers will ask for the location of each family's previous home

and religion.

"As long as people answer fairly and honestly we will be able to have an idea

of what is the recent immigration," Fauveau said.

Answering the survey is a civic duty. However, people may not answer truthfully,

for instance if they were here illegally and feared trouble, he said. "We are

not police investigators to check whether what they say is the truth," he said.

"If the survey officer thinks that the answer is not fair according to what

he or she has seen in the house, they can check with the village leader," Teng

Eng said.

To gain people's confidence, the Planning Ministry will issue a decree ensuring the

confidentiality of the answers.

Under-Secretary of State Sang Ryvannak said that the ministry insisted that a broader

question on nationality be asked, rather than a specific one. To prevent privacy

violations, the data will be secret, he said. Computers will process people's answer

sheets without names attached.

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