Couples Forced to Marry Under Khmer Rouge Reaffirm Vows

For many of those forced into mar­riages under the Khmer Rouge regime, embarking on life with their spouse was often a complicated, even traumatic affair.

But seven couples in Kompong Chhnang province happily celebrated their arranged fate on Fri­day, affirming their marriage for the first time with the traditional wed­ding ceremony they had been denied some four decades ago.

A couple poses during a remarriage ceremony in Kompong Chhnang province on Friday. (Man Sokkoeun)
A couple poses during a remarriage ceremony in Kompong Chhnang province on Friday. (Man Sokkoeun)

“We are very excited and never expected to wear traditional Khmer attire at our wedding because during Pol Pot’s regime, we were married both wearing black clothes and only briefly held our hands up and said ‘pledge!’” Ke Khann, who re-wedded her husband of 40 years, Ly Lay Oeun, said after the ceremony.

The ceremony in Rolea Ba’ier dis­trict’s Svay Chrum commune was organized by the NGO Youth for Peace (YFP) and supported by USAID and the Peace Institute of Cambodia.

Among the couples, the oldest per­son was 64 and the youngest was 54, said Man Sokkoeun, manager of YFP’s reconciliation and me­morialization program.

With the grooms donning gold suits and brides in coral and emerald dresses, the festivities were a far step from the couples’ somber first weddings.

Lasting from 7 in the morning until 10 at night, the ceremony was ac­companied by music and dancing, Mr. Sokkoeun said, adding that there were 250 guests including children and grandchildren.

Thousands of Cambodians were forced to marry by the Khmer Rouge as part of a policy intended to grow its ranks. Such marriages and the accompanying forced consummation often led to deep trauma and are set to be addressed by the Khmer Rouge tribunal later this year. But amid the horror of forced marriage, some of the couples went on to lead loving relationships.

The event was the second re­marriage ceremony organized by YFP for couples forced to be married under the Khmer Rouge, with a ceremony for five couples held last year, Mr. Sokkoeun said.

cam photo remarriage_KHMER
Grooms hold flower arrangements during a remarriage ceremony in Kompong Chhnang province on Friday. (Man Sokkoeun)

During the festivities, the couples also shared stories of how they were forced to marry, unable to re­ject the regime’s orders if they want­ed to survive, he added.

Now a grandmother, Ms. Khann, 57, said she married her hus­band when they were just 18.

“My husband and I wanted to re­marry because we never married pro­perly,” she said. “On Friday, my marriage was reborn with new life, like a young couple’s marriage.”

Sok Hort, 60, who was forced to marry when he was 22, said the ceremony allowed him to shed the idea that his marriage was only a product of the repressive regime.

“This time, we were married voluntarily,” said the farmer, who has eight children with his wife, Yim Ren, along with nine grandchildren.

While the ceremony was a stirring milestone for the couples, it was also an emotional moment for their families, he said.

“Our remarriage party on Friday made a sweet memory in our lives, by fol­lowing traditional Khmer marriage etiquettes with our children and our grandchildren,” Mr. Hort said.

“My grandchildren were very happy to see their grandfather and grandmother remarried,” Ms. Khann added.

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