DESPITE having a basic understanding of the role of government, young Cambodians exhibit a low level of civic engagement, according to a study released yesterday by the United Nations Development Programme.
The study, a partnership between the UNDP and the BBC World Service Trust, used both qualitative and quantitative methods to survey 2,000 Cambodians aged 15 to 24 across the Kingdom. It is part of the UNDP’s “Strengthening Democracy and Electoral Processes in Cambodia” project, which is designed to increase civic participation, with an emphasis on youth.
The study found that while Cambodian youth had a high level of awareness of democratic concepts, only 8 percent had voiced their opinions to public officials and nearly three-quarters said they were uninterested or ambivalent about politics.
“As a nation, Cambodia needs to look at the fact that young people don’t necessarily feel it’s their responsibility to know what is going on,” said Colin Spurway, project director at the BBC World Service Trust.
“That’s not to say that they don’t absolutely have the capacity to be involved though.”
The study also depicted a strong sense of pride among young Cambodians, though this was tempered by a lukewarm attitude towards the government’s effectiveness.
Around 95 percent reported being proud to be Cambodian and 80 percent felt the country was moving in the right direction, but only 62 percent said they had confidence in the government.
Scepticism of government was reported more frequently among those with higher levels of education. When given the statement “the leader of the government is like head of the family, so we should follow what they have decided,” 81 percent of respondents with no schooling agreed, while only 47 percent of those with a university education agreed.
This educated group also showed the highest level of disagreement with the statement “everybody is respected equally in Cambodia.”
The study also highlighted a gap between young Cambodians’ awareness of certain political concepts and mechanisms and a deeper understanding of their definition. For example, while a majority of youth had heard of the terms “democracy,” “civic engagement,” and “parliament,” most were unable to define them accurately.
Raising deeper awareness about these important concepts and institutions was a recommendation of the survey.
Other recommendations included removing barriers to civic participation, encouraging and facilitating political discussions and debates, and instilling more confidence in Cambodia’s youth to assume positions of leadership within their community.