Ahead of Valentine’s Day on Thursday, the Ministry of Education on Wednesday released a public statement imploring young people to refrain from having sex, and denouncing the holiday as a foreign import.
“The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport deeply regrets that a small number of youths…follow foreign cultures without consideration and think that February 14 Valentine’s Day is the day that they shall sacrifice their bodies for sweethearts and cause the loss of personal and family dignity,” the statement reads.
Ros Salin, chief of cabinet at the Education Ministry, said that the statement was simply a warning to youth who today might be drawn into behavior that they otherwise would not engage in.
“Our main objective is to remind the youth that sometimes they are confused on Valentine’s Day and do things that conflict with the Cambodian culture,” he said Thursday.
Valentine’s Day in the West, to hear Mr. Salin talk, is as much about rape and underage sex as it is about roses and chocolate.
“Valentine’s Day is Western culture, a foreign culture. Boys can exploit Valentine’s Day and take advantage of girls, while girls sometimes are confused about what their role is on Valentine’s Day,” he said.
“Valentine’s Day exposes the youth to rape,” he added.
There is a history of anti-Valentine’s Day sentiment among government officials that stretches back to the ’90s, when Cambodians first adopted the tradition.
But Mu Sochua, CNRP-lawmaker elect and former Minister of Women’s Affairs, said Thursday that government officials, and anyone else casting aspersions on Valentine’s Day based on the fact that it is imported, were misguided.
“Is using a telephone part of Khmer culture? What about beer—is beer Khmer culture?” she asked, adding that advertising and promoting Valentine’s Day did not compare to other damaging products that are waved in front of consumers on a daily basis.
“Beer is advertised everywhere all the time…. Is the government questioning the damage it does to society?”
“Does more sexual assault occur as a result of alcohol or Valentine’s Day?”
Youngsters across Phnom Penh on Thursday mostly said that, while Valentine’s Day is not part of Khmer culture, it is a day to express love for your friends and family, and not an excuse for debauchery.
“I only want to give a flower to my sweetheart to show her that I love her,” said Moung Phalla, 18. “No. It does not mean that we should have sex.”
“I already know that my boyfriend will give me a flower,” said Veasna Phan, 20. “And he already knows that we can not [have sex] until we have been married.”
Ms. Sochua said that government officials’ stand against Valentine’s Day was a reflection of the way women are often viewed in Cambodian society.
“They are all about preserving the perfect young virgin—the unspoiled flower,” she said.
“It is good to keep this debate alive, to raise awareness, but at the end of the day, you can’t stop importing or exporting culture,” she said.
“The youth are going to do what the youth are going to do. We just have to make sure they are educated to make the right decisions.”