When Cha Bai was 15 years old, in the early 1960s, she stopped sleeping in her parent’s house. A few strong boys from her village, Krolah (in Ratanakkiri, Cambodia) had gone into the forest, where they gathered brown leaves, split bamboo, cut branches, and then built her a small sleeping hut within the protective enclosure of the village. For the next five years, before she married, Cha Bai slept in the hut. Some cold nights, her sisters or a friend would join her to keep warm and gossip. Some nights she slept alone. And some nights, if she felt like it, one of the young men in the village would sleep with her instead.
Kreung young people are different these days, says Ha Youen Thong, a village elder in Krolah. They streak their hair red and orange. They wear jeans, and they listen to popular music. They’ve stopped learning to hit the gong or play flutes. Even more worrisome to him and others in Krolah, they’re getting married earlier than ever before.
“These days, girls at twelve or thirteen are married already,” says Cha Bai. “They sleep together early—then they have to marry. It’s not like before. Mothers and fathers don’t know much about their children, and they don’t have ways to restrain them.”