Nine out of 10 LGBT students have experienced bullying in Cambodia’s schools, which hurts their future educational attainment and makes their lives harder, according to a report released yesterday by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.
The NGO conducted a survey of 245 people in Koh Kong, Kampong Thom, Kampot and Takeo provinces, and found that verbal bullying happened to almost 90 per cent of respondents, physical bullying to 40 per cent and sexual bullying to a third. Close to half of LGBT students said they felt socially excluded.
“Many people view the LGBT community as ‘strange’ or ‘different’, even though we are all the same,” said Nuon Sidara, a project coordinator with CCHR. “There are strong cultural beliefs that being LGBT is an illness, or the result of a traumatic break-up, or due to a certain upbringing.”
According to the study, Cambodia’s Theravada Buddhist society does not stigmatise alternate sexualities and gender identities, but traditional family values make parents ashamed of gay or transgendered kids. This attitude gets passed on to youngsters.
Currently, Cambodian anti-discrimination laws don’t protect citizens on the basis of sexual and gender identity. On the other hand, the law does not punish people on the basis of their sexuality. The trouble, researchers say, comes from social attitudes.
Of those who reported bullying, 42 per cent said they were bullied “often” or “every day”. The majority of bullying came from male students (68 per cent), followed by community members (36 per cent), and even police (20.5 per cent).
Female students bullied 14 per cent of respondents, and teachers 16.67 per cent. Teachers also sometimes failed to punish the bullies, and blamed the victims. Only 42 per cent of respondents said that teachers took action to stop bullying.
“In general, male and female students don’t receive punishment from the teacher, but I get punished, even though I am doing well or I am smart in class,” said Srors, a 19-year-old trans man in Kampong Chhnang.
Almost 13 per cent of respondents failed to complete high school due to bullying, and a “considerable” number of participants developed mental health problems from the psychological assault. Sidara said that bullying also leads to high rates of depression, suicide and self-harm.
The study’s authors called on the government to adopt stronger anti-discrimination laws for LGBT people and on Cambodian schools to create anti-bullying policies.
Puth Samith, director-general of the General Education Department at the Ministry of Education, said that the ministry is not prioritising LGBT issues at the moment.
“Our priority focus is on equality, and limiting the gap between females and males” he said. “LGBTs are not much of a concern for the government.”
However, the ministry has partnered with some NGOs to give sensitivity training to more than 2,000 teachers so far. Srun Srorn, an LGBT activist involved in the training, said that teachers under 40 are especially receptive to the idea that they should respect people of all sexualities.
Additional reporting by Cheng Sokhorng