To be pronounced husband and wife in the Khmer tradition means the bride and groom go through a marriage ceremony fully supported by both parents and known by relatives and friends. The traditional Khmer marriage still plays an important role in modern Cambodia.
The traditional way of life in Cambodian society does not allow a couple to live together before marriage. Doing so in secret is especially frowned upon.
Ly Bunthoeun, 24, had his wedding six months ago and said he and his wife had loved each other and struggled for 10 years to get married.
“Though there have been lots of obstacles, we never acted foolishly, especially never staying under same roof before marriage, because this act is considered wrong and would shame us and our family,” said Bunthoeun, a financial coordination officer in a private company.
Bunthoeun and his wife set a good moral example, but now there are young couples who decide to live together secretly before marriage. Why do they do this?
Piseth (not her real name) is living with his girlfriend in a rented room. He said they were in love for three years before deciding to move in together. Their parents have met and know about their love but aren’t aware that the couple lives together.
“We are afraid of being found out by our friends and parents, and we rarely allow guests at our house,” Piseth said. “We love and trust each other, that is why we dare live together. We are completely sure and our parents are 90 per cent sure about our future marriage. We hope to get married when we can afford it.”
Second-year university student Chan Phalkun said: “I think it is modern but not really appropriate. I do not support this.”
“Couples living together is like being husband and wife, but only marriage can properly make two people husband and wife. If they live together without getting married it affects our cultural way of life as well as their reputation.”
Ket Monyvathana, a senior student at the Institute of Foreign Language, said: “It is a right for the couple if they want to get married or not. They might have problems with finances or something that would not allow them to get married quite yet.”
Choeung Yoeung, a 47-year-old mother of six, said: “I could not accept it if my children dared to do this.” She believes it is against Cambodian tradition and would ruin parents’ reputations.
H.E. Thai Naraksatya, secretary of state of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts said: “For a couple to live together but not get married would affect parents since they always hope to see their children have a bright future.”
Khus Thida, an executive director of Silaka, believes living together without or before marriage is like playing with fire. Cambodian society is still a society that needs the involvement of parents and relatives, she said.
Ly Bunthoeun advised the younger generation that “no matter how modern and developed the country is, tradition still exists so we should not follow Western culture”.