Valentine’s Day: Should the line ministries take the blame like in the case of Roka commune case?

Unofficial Translation from The Phnom Penh Post’s Khmer edition

ថ្ងៃ១៤ កុម្ភៈ តើស្ថាប័នពាក់ព័ន្ធអាចត្រូវគេស្តីបន្ទោសដូចករណីឃុំរកា?

A woman held a branch of flower on the Valentine’s Day in 2013. HENG CHIVOAN
A woman held a branch of flower on the Valentine’s Day in 2013. HENG CHIVOAN

Due to advertisements on websites, television, and movies, Valentine’s Day, which originated in the West, has had influenced the world, causing many countries to unconsciously adopt this custom. However, some countries, such as India, have been protesting against it. This is because the inappropriate interpretation of the meaning of that day transforms its theme from romance to making love.

Why is Valentine’s Day still popular among young Cambodians, especially with respect to their involvement in sexual relationships?

Sexual relations among youths on 14 February has caused an intense debate over human rights versus local culture, forced sex, unintended pregnancy, HIV and other STDs. However, young people have the opportunity to be involved in the sexual relationships all year round, not only on Valentine’s day. According to global health research on Cambodia, 11.2 percent of urban students who are between 13 and 17 years old have ever had sex. (MOH, MOEY, WHO, & CDC, 2014)

This data shows that the ages of sexually active youths keep decreasing relatively, compared to the findings of my earlier research report about love and sexual relationship. In this follow-up study of the experience and plans of 715 young people between the ages of 15 and 24, I found that 11.3 percent of those surveyed intended to have sex on the upcoming Valentine’s Day (Soprach, 2014). The results suggest that the intervention to prevent this problem should be implemented on a daily basis rather than only one day (14 February) and also violates individual’s human right?

The entities responsible for the dissemination and education of reproductive rights and sexual health are stakeholders from public institutions, NGOs, and the private health services operating within their authorized areas as usual. Nevertheless, the main concerns about Valentine’s Day reports is that it is an event that impacts Khmer culture and that results in sexual coercion, which simply means that individuals have sex due to various pressures such as expensive gifts, other excuses, pressure, or rape as the case study of Marie Stopes International found the sex on Valentine’s Day associated with young women’s pregnancy as remorse (Cockrof & Svaypich, Feb. 15, 2012, The Phnom Penh Post’s Khmer Edition).

Based on the research about youths and Valentine’s Day (N=715) in Phnom Penh, the concern about non-consensual sex among young males stems from the finding that 47.4 percent of male participants who stated their intention to have sex on February 14 (n=61) planned to have sex no matter whether their partners agreed to it or not. Another concern about unsafe sex also arises when 30.2 percent of the youths who have sexual partners do not plan to use condoms. (Soprach, 2014)

Regarding the youths’ behavior in not using condoms as shown in the research report, this may result in the spread of HIV, especially on Valentine’s Day. This could have dramatic repercussions that call to mind recently the HIV/AIDS outbreak case in Roka commune, Sankae district, Battambang province, in which over 200 people are infected with HIV because of the careless practices of an unlicensed doctor. Who and which institutions would be responsible for a similar outbreak due to unsafe sex on Valentine’s Day or any other day?
In both cases, the relevant officials might point their fingers to one another or find various excuses to get away with it, as with the Roka commune HIV/AIDS outbreak. This Responses to the ones who criticized that this intervention is the violation of human right. The question would be asked criticized people; do you have ever educated the youths at home or their community about Sexual and Reproductive Health? By taking advantage, who should be responsible for date rape and the suicides committed by girls who are dumped by their boyfriends? These tragedies should not be ignored, as they are not limited to particular individuals but the whole society, and no one wants such things to happen.

For the past 7 years, I have studied and observed the links between youths’ sexual behaviors and Valentine’s Day as well as the changes in youths’ sexual behaviors on this day through qualitative and quantitative research published in 2008, 2009 and 2014. The outcome of the research in 2014 has shown that the general behaviors of youths change dramatically on Valentine’s Day, as seen in the increased importance of the occasion in their minds, and the purchases of gifts and flowers for their lovers. This was not as evident in the research conducted five years ago.

However, the trend of sexual relationships among youths who have planned for sex has not declined significantly (12.4 {020613e3781e757fa5d0c4ea8d2e9a1eda2b430a524642dc0ce5b56489f01aa8} in 2009 and 11.3 {020613e3781e757fa5d0c4ea8d2e9a1eda2b430a524642dc0ce5b56489f01aa8} in 2014). Meanwhile, the number of the youths who plan not to use condoms has doubled. Fortunately, the tendency of male youths putting pressure on their lovers for sex has decreased, compared to the data five years ago. Therefore, the campaigns for the dissemination and education of sexual responsibility and security among youths have to be launched with special attention, to prevent any negative impacts on Cambodian culture and malpractice similar to those that took place in Roka Commune.

According to research on Thai adolescents’ sexual behavior, one in three male adolescents planned to have sex on Valentine’s Day in 2014. In the meantime, there have been many mechanisms to deal with this issue, such as the prohibition that banned youths who are 17 and under from entering a guesthouse or hotel. This year, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration will distribute 3.5 million of condoms on that day where most youth would have their first sex, to prevent the spread of STDs such as HIV. Vietnam and Laos, on the other hand, have not had any specific research about this issue, but their youths often express concerns about it at workshops in their countries.

In conclusion, the Cambodian government always struggles to accuse or excuse the foreign culture influence such as Valentine’s Day or Christmas Eve to Khmer culture and adolescences who need to be received clearer the information of Valentine’s Day history and sexual and reproductive health. But in fact, the Royal Government doesn’t create new Khmer cultures and promote them for the young generation enjoyment.

Tong Soprach is a social affairs columnist for the Post’s Khmer edition.