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Khmer Rouge forced marriage effects linger

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Minister of Women's Affairs Ing Kantha Phavi. Heng Chivoan

Khmer Rouge forced marriage effects linger

A research paper published on Wednesday by the Cambodia Women’s Crisis Center (CWCC) in conjunction with Canada’s McGill University claims that forced marriage during the Khmer Rouge regime continues to impact the victims 40 years on.

The paper – which contains interviews with male and female victims, as well as more than 100 relevant people in Banteay Meanchey province’s Phnom Srok district and Kampong Thom province’s Stoung district – showed that forced marriage during the regime’s rule has resulted in poverty persisting from generation to generation.

CWCC executive director Pok Panhavichet said the suffering remains fresh in the minds of victims.

Their suffering extends to their families, most of who have low education and began their lives from scratch following the overthrow of the Pol Pot regime. Most of them struggle in their family life and some have divorced.

“After the regime, some couples separated and their children were abandoned. Some couples were able to live together but they did nothing to look after or build the futures of their children. Though the regime has been gone for 40 years, we’ve noticed that those who have lived and gone through forced marriage expressed anguish upon remembering these stories,” she said.

“This study is very important because now that it has come to light, we can brainstorm ways to help them. We can give them consultations to relieve their suffering and create various interactive programmes to help their livelihood,” she added.

McGill University researcher Myriam Denov said the study was conducted to discover the experiences and views of affected families due to forced marriage during the regime and to comprehend the long-term effects of forced marriage.

She said most victims had their lives threatened and were closely monitored during the Khmer Rouge era.

“However, this study showed that although there was forced marriage in the regime, it is observed that men still had the right to choose a woman through a request made to their governor, while women had no right and could not object and this forced marriage depended on designation.”

The research cites, on condition of anonymity, the responses of some of the victims surrounding their marriage during the time: “The most difficult thing was a lack of freedom. We were always wrong – we could be killed anytime. We could be killed if we objected to the arrangement. They did not ask us first for us to marry.”

Another woman said: “We could not object. The Angkar was like our parents – they oversaw us. That’s right, they had their people observing my husband and I. I was afraid that they would punish me. I was silent and obviously I did not love my husband.”

Long Rorn, 60, who is a widow with seven children to feed, currently lives in Kampong Thom province’s Stoung district. She told The Post on Wednesday that she was a victim of forced marriage during the Pol Pot regime.

“Of course, those of us who were forced by Angkar to get married were afraid for our lives. Many people were killed after objecting to Angkar’s arrangements,” she said.

Tearing up she continued: “It is really stressful to tell our children – who were not born during the regime – and having them not believe the suffering we had to go through during the regime and our forced marriages, we did not know each other [and had never] seen each other.

“This research paper is very important, it shows our real life. I am so happy that our agony has been unveiled as such, because when I tell my children, they don’t believe me.”

Khmer Rouge tribunal spokesman Neth Pheaktra on Wednesday said forced marriage was one of the policies the Communist Party of Kampuchea – better known as the Khmer Rouge – created to achieve a socialist revolution in Cambodia and to protect itself from internal and external enemies through any means necessary.

Pheaktra says that Cambodians throughout the Kingdom were forced to get married during the Democratic Kampuchea Regime from 1975 to 1979, damaging a lot of Cambodian citizens.

The goal of the forced marriage policy was to increase the population and to eliminate extramarital affairs, she added.

“There were 776 victims who filed complaints related to forced marriages. They accused Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, who were found by the Trial Chamber [of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia] to be guilty in Case 002/02. Many men and women were forced to get married during the Khmer Rouge regime,” he said.

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