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Arranged marriage blamed for failing families

Arranged marriage blamed for failing families


THE TRADITION of arranged marriages in Cambodia is ancient, and according to

observers and organizations, the custom of parents hooking up their sons and

daughters without the children's consent is still extremely


Glue-sniffing kids on the streets of Phnom Penh. According to Sebastien Marot, broken families are the main reason that an ever-increasing number of Cambodian children end up as street kids

However some observers say it is time to consign the practice to

history because the personal costs are too high.

Arranged marriages are

seen as a means of creating connections and strategic alliances between families

- a useful tool in a society where impunity and corruption are rampant and

people are left to fend for themselves.

But at the same time, experts

say, this tradition creates a curse of very loose-knit families that break up

easily. It instigates conflict between children and their parents. It feeds

prostitution, when husbands look for fun and pleasure outside the home. And

while it may not always be the actual cause of domestic violence, it certainly

makes it more difficult for a battered wife to leave her spouse.

When the

children and community organization Friends/Mith Samlanh recently interviewed

people in the Bassac squatter area in Phnom Penh, they found that 53 percent of

the women between 20 and 25 years old lived in arranged marriages. Others say

that arranged marriage is the rule rather than the exception in all walks of

Cambodian life - rich, poor or middle class, rural or urban, educated or not


"Marriage is very important for all Cambodians. And I believe

the majority of all marriages are still arranged," says Sou Sophorn Nara of the

children's organization Redd Barna.

As it happens, his mother is

currently trying to arrange for him to marry a hand-picked woman. Sophorn Nara

is still trying to talk her out of it.

"It is a very common practice for

parents to find a suitable match for their sons and daughters - often through

astrologers," says Eva Galabru of the human rights group Licadho.


problems begin when one of the children is in love with someone else, and in

that situation, the girls are often worse off than the boys. There is a lot of

pressure on women to get married. A girl will say no in the beginning, but she

has the whole world against her, so she finally accepts the match. This makes up

for ugly, unhappy marriages".

Galabru points to cases where girls as

young as 13 have been forced to marry much older men.

Sometimes, a future

wife decides that the uncertain fate of running away from home is better than

being forced to marry a man she doesn't want. Friends/Mith Samlanh has seen a

certain number of cases where 15, 16, and 17-year-old girls have chosen street

life to married life.

"These girls risk ending up in prostitution. In any

case, they will never again be regarded as 'good girls' by their families,

because they ran away from home and defied their parents' wish," says Sebastien

Marot of Friends/Mith Samlanh.

"It is different for the boys. They are

considered to be like gold - always shiny - whereas the girls are like cloth -

the stains stay on. Parents see their daughters as family assets - an item they

can sell when and to whomever they want."

When couples are forced to

marry, the emotional ties between the spouses often remain very weak. The

husband considers his wife a child-bearing device and looks to prostitutes for

entertainment and pleasure.

It is not unusual for these families to break

up quickly. And when their parents find a new partner, children from the first

marriage often find themselves with hostile step-parents who would rather see

the back of them.

According to Marot, broken families are the main reason

that an ever-increasing number of Cambodian children end up as street


Whereas arranged marriages may be a contributing factor in domestic

violence between spouses, Berta Travieso from the organization Project Against

Domestic Violence (PADV) says the real reason a husband beats his wife is for

him to feel powerful and for her to be powerless.

A survey conducted by

PADV in 1996 among 2,500 people showed that 16 percent of all women had been

abused by their husbands and 8 percent had been injured and needed medical

treatment because of the abuse.

Also, the survey revealed that domestic

violence in Cambodia takes on a particularly crude and raw character, with

stabbings, shootings, threats with knives and guns, burnings and chokings among

the abuse - sometimes teetering on the edge of torture.

But no matter how

seriously the wife has been injured after an assault, she will almost certainly

be told to stay with her husband, when she finally sums up the courage to seek

help from authorities, village elders or relatives.

They will try to

reconcile the couple, advise the woman to endure the abuse - and maybe tell her

to cook better food or start using make-up so that her husband might like her

more. This is especially common for arranged marriages.

"If a woman is in

an arranged marriage and she says she wants to divorce her husband because he is

beating her up, it is practically the same as saying that her family was wrong

when they paired her with this man," says Travieso. "That will put shame on the

family, so the woman faces a lot of obstacles when she wants to get out of a

violent marriage. Even her own family will never forgive her for leaving her


Many battered women take their frustrations out on their

children, beating them up to release their own anger - and thus propagating the

cycle of violence.

For those few women who eventually decide to leave

their abusive husbands, justice and compensation are not easy things to come by,


Galabru of Licadho refers to a case of a young woman who

sustained multiple fractures to her arm after a particularly harsh beating by

her husband.

One night he came home drunk and started yelling at her.

When she tried to protect herself and her 10-month-old baby, the husband grabbed

a metal bar and hit her on the arm.

Eventually, neighbors called police,

who took the furious husband away. The woman went to a shelter, filed for

divorce and lodged an official complaint against her spouse.

But later,

when the divorce settlement was reached, the woman agreed to drop the complaint.

She was supposed to get $15,000 in compensation, but received only $3,000, of

which the police took half.

"When we asked her why she had agreed to

this, she answered: 'If I had refused, he would have paid off all the police,

and I wouldn't have been any better off'," says Galabru. "I guess she was



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