Whenmost people think about weddings, they think about love. But historically, marriage in Cambodia often occurs for reasons that have nothing to do with the heart, and there are still young adults in the Kingdom who have little say in choosing the person with whom they will spend their life with.
In many families, once a child – particularly a young woman – is old enough to start a family, their parents find a potential spouse whose family is of similar economic and social standing.
Kim Samoan, who is 35, thinks that arranged marriages should be a thing of the past. But when her mother confronted her 15 years ago about marrying a man who she had never met, her loyalty to her family wouldn’t allow her to say “no”.
Her parents had already accepted a dowry from her prospective husband’s family, and her refusal would have meant economic ruin for her own family.
“I wanted to choose a husband on my own since we will have to raise children and live together for the rest of our lives,” she said.
“I am unhappy and angry with my mother since she asked me to marry a person who I do not love,” she said, adding that she and her husband argue often and have a hard time relating to each other.
The presence of arranged marriages is in no way unique to Cambodia. Many families in other countries such as India, Japan and China have similar expectations of their youth upon reaching a certain age.
While arranged marriages are a reality that thousands of young Cambodian’s must consider, there are also a growing number of Cambodian youth who are being given the freedom to find their own spouse.
Chea Sokdary, 23, approached her parents after she found the man who she said would make her happy for the rest of her life.
“We spent a year getting to know each other and since we were still happy we decided to get married,” she said. “I think parents should give their daughters or sons a chance to choose their own spouse.”
According to Mony Sothara, a psychiatrist at Preah Kossamak Hospital, marriages where the prospective husband and wife make the choice are bound to be healthier. He said that youth know better what they want edfor themselves, and if their parents made the decision “it is likely to affect their mental health”.
Miech Ponn, a consultant at the Buddhist Institute, said that he had conducted surveys around the country, the results of which seemed to contradict the idea that marriages derived from previously-built trust and affection erre more likely to last.
He said that his randomly-selected group of more than 300 people in Takeo, Banteay Meanchey, Siem Reap and Oddar Meanchey provinces showed that, although Cambodian youth were increasingly being allowed to choose their own spouse, there was nothing in the results indicating
that this freedom was leading to lower divorce rates or happier marriages.
Sombo Manara, a historian and lecturer at multiple universities in Cambodia, agreed that arranged marriages were less common in the Kingdom.
But he warned that teenagers, just like their parents, “can make wrong decision without appropriate consideration”.