With Valentine’s Day just days away, the Ministry of Education on Tuesday entreated the nation’s teachers to put their students through a crash course to dispel what it believes is a widely held misconception among Cambodian youth that the holiday is a pretext for sex.
The government’s message has become as customary as the occasion itself, and Tuesday’s statement rearticulated its critique that Valentine’s Day has instilled a sexual agenda that pressures young women into relinquishing their virginity.
“Cambodian students take Valentine’s Day to mean ‘sweetheart day,’ and they buy flowers as a way to convince girls to give up their virginity,” Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron says in the statement. “In Europe, they give flowers out of friendship on Valentine’s Day, to show their love to friends, relatives and parents.”
The minister said he could not explain why an annual celebration he claimed was about platonic love had been adulterated by adolescent Cambodians.
“This year, we are asking teachers to properly advise their students…to stop thinking anymore about Valentine’s Day,” he said.
“Buying flowers for each other is fine, but not if [it] is meant to move beyond friendship and lose one’s virginity—this is not right, and it violates our culture.”
Tep Sovannaroth, a teacher at Boeng Trabek High School in Phnom Penh’s Chamkar Mon district, blamed the government for failing to more clearly define the holiday’s meaning in recent years.
“We try our best as teachers, but to correct this interpretation, it is important that the government talk to the public directly or on television,” he said.
But some students have found a way to reconcile the government’s view of Valentine’s Day without losing sight of its romance.
“Every Valentine’s Day, I always make sure to give some gift to my parents,” said Vong Roby, 16, a student at Phnom Penh’s Sisowath High School. “But I also need time with my girlfriend…. I wait for this day so I can buy her flowers.”