Five couples in Kompong Chhnang province’s Rolea Ba’ier district who were forced to marry during the Khmer Rouge era held a joint traditional wedding ceremony on Wednesday, reaffirming their conjugal vows and experiencing Cambodian Buddhist wedding rituals for the first time.
It is estimated that between 200,000 and 250,000 people were forced to marry between 1975 and 1979, often under threat of death. The arbitrary couplings were designed to smash traditional family units while “producing children to serve the revolution,” according to author Dy Khamboly, a researcher with the Documentation Center of Cambodia.
The practice—along with the rapes and psychological trauma that victims suffered as a result—is considered a crime against humanity and is being dealt with in the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s Case 002/2, which is currently underway.
But five couples who are still together more than 35 years after the regime’s collapse decided to renew their vows on Wednesday under very different circumstances, and with mutual consent.
“I can say that it is the first remarrying ceremony for those who were forcibly married by Khmer Rouge,” said Man Sokkoeun, project officer for the USAID-funded Youth for Peace organization’s “Truth, Reconciliation and Healing—Toward a Shared Future” project, which helped organize the aging couples’ big day.
“We held two important traditional wedding ceremonies for the five couples,” explained Mr. Sokkoeun. “One of the most important ceremonies we organized for them…was the morning fruit parade, and the second important ceremony was Bay Khon Chong Dai.”
Traditionally, Cambodian wedding ceremonies span two days, but one of Wednesday’s grooms, Srey San, 66, who is also a lay Buddhist master of ceremonies, or achar, predicted that it would be most auspicious for the five couples to hold a half-day ceremony on January 28.
Mr. San, from Svay Chrum commune, said Thursday that there were many couples in the commune who are still together since being forced to marry at the hands of Khmer Rouge soldiers.
“But just five couples, including me [and my wife], wanted to remarry so that we can have a traditional wedding and wear traditional wedding clothes,” he said.
Mr. San said that Bay Khon Chong Dai, a ritual that sees the couple’s hands tied together with red thread by relatives, was the most important part of the wedding for his wife and him, as it meant that their relationship was legally acknowledged and blessed by their families.
“It has made us happy and it healed our psychological suffering since we were forced to marry by the Khmer Rouge without traditional rituals, wearing just black clothes and without blessings from relatives and parents.”
His wife, 59-year-old Thon Neang, agreed, saying she was overcome by emotion during the ceremony.
“Being able to dress in traditional clothes and have a red-thread ritual left me in tears,” she said.