I have created a monster - by reducing my age. During the past ten years the
monster was in my favor, but now it has turned against me.
I want to
apply for a British fellowship but legally I'm four years too young. By the
reckoning on nature though, I should only have to wait another year.
Having had their school years upset by war in the early 1970s and later
the Khmer Rouge period, many people found they were too old to attend primary
school in the early 1980s.
Teenage Khmers began changing their ages so
they were young enough to keep attending primary school, repeat classes and
Aunts and uncles soon began starting school alongside
their nieces and nephews.
Many who changed their birthdates picked easy
to remember dates - such as January 7, the day Pol Pot's regime was overthrown,
or April 13, Khmer New Year's Day.
I, too, was reborn on January 1, 1973
instead of my real birthdate of April 22, 1969. It was 1984 and I was about to
take a primary school examination I was too old for, so I gave my "new"
I don't celebrate either birthdate - or any of the
others I have given to officials at one time or another - because only rich
people celebrate birthdays. But if I were rich enough, I would celebrate my real
But for now my counterfeit birthdate haunts me. To apply for a
Reuters Foundation scholarship, I have to be 27. I will be 27 next year but
because of my fake birthdate I will have to wait another four years to be
Many other Khmers, whose identity cards, passports,
certificates and degrees bear birthdates which are not their real ones, face
Chhim Dararath, from Phnom Penh's Chatomuk school,
could not vote during the UNTAC elections because he was too young.
was really born in 1971 but changed that to 1979 to allow him to repeat primary
He said it took him almost 10 years to learn the 69 Khmer
consonants and vowels, because of poor memory caused by chronic illness during
the Khmer Rouge years.
He has now graduated to secondary school, where he
studies alongside young boys and girls. He was appointed class monitor in
addition to his usual task of helping to wipe the kids' noses.
ashamed to be called 'uncle' by my young classmates," lamented the 24-year-old
Sok Seng, an electrician at a Phnom Penh power plant, said he
changed his birthdate from 1966 to 1972. He was able to miss out on military
service in the 1980s "because I was still officially young."
brother who is really two years younger than him is officially two years
"I want to change back to my real age but it's too late," he
He, like most Khmers, no longer have any identity papers issued
before the 1970s, and all his more recent ones bear his counterfeit date of
"I will still have to work six more years after I reach the
retiring age," he joked.
Uy Borasy, a trader at a Phnom Penh market, said
many people also changed their ages during the Khmer Rouge rule.
reduced his age by three years to try to avoid being sent to Khmer Rouge mobile
youth work teams, "but it was not effective because the Khmer Rouge's Angkar
would select all the big boys and girls regardless of their ages".
later changed his age again under the State of Cambodia regime in the 1980s so
he could study at high school.
Now, he says, he has to live with the fact
he has a "young age with an old face".