blog posts from GYC's participants, alumni, & staff
by Sambath Bun, Cambodia
Did you know that Cambodian youth were very silent about politics in the past, but not now?
Did you know why Cambodian youth were non-violent in the 2013 election campaign? Neither do I. But I have some thoughts on the matter.
After the genocide in Cambodia, most Cambodian youth were told or educated not to be involved in politics, nor to demand for their rights to be recognized. Almost every youth were told by their parents and teachers not to talk or study about politics. When youth have risen up, the government has always cracked down with severe violence in the recent past. This has built a culture of silence and a lack of political activity among youth in Cambodia even though the issues affect their daily activities.
However, culture of violence has always been a concern in Cambodian society due to the low level of education of Cambodian youth as whole. Dropout rate from school in Cambodia is very high, particularly from the statistic, around more than 3 per cent of youth can afford to go to higher education. Furthermore, political arena in Cambodia does not provide youth opportunity to involve, but encourage youth to take side and violent. More importantly, low trust among Cambodian people is still widespread, resulting from the Pol Pot regime (1975 – 1979). For instance, there was always violent both physical and communication during the election campaigns.
But something interesting happened during the last election, July 2013 (fifth mandate).
Strikingly, youth have been very mature during the last election by showing the public with no violence during the election campaign, violence which most people anticipated to occur. This has surprised the public and many questions have arisen in political and social analysts on what made youth change that dramatically. Moreover, surprisingly, a huge number of youth participated freely in political campaign and expressed their idea in the public without fear. At the same, it is observed that number political activists killed during the election period reduced unlike previous elections. In addition, more and more youth have engaged in political protests with opposition parties and other social movements and demonstrations.
Reason for this spectacular change has not been found. Is it because of the maturity of the political parties in Cambodia, as a young democracy, including ruling party and opposition party? More interestingly, is it because youth have received more information from the emerging social media, especially Facebook? A high percentage of youth access Facebook regularly (46% for people from the age of 18 – 24 and 34% for people from 25 – 34). Ministry of Education Youth and Sport in Cambodia has defined youth as people whose age from 15 – 30. Nearly 70% of the Cambodian population is under the age of 30.
No research has been conducted on this change in youth behavior in recent politics, whether or not it is because the political issue has come to a turning point which requires deep reform. Is it because youth cannot continue anymore to endorse (through silence) the rampant corruption affecting their daily life. Thus, they have to fight to survive. Still, it needs further and evidence based research. As a result, it is always interesting to have more youth engagement in the debate or dialogue to see their perspectives and intentions.
As I am now here in New York City for the GYC Human Rights in the USA program, I am wondering if American youth are influenced by their parents and education on their political thoughts including involving in political campaign? What are the social media that impact their political thoughts? Also, I want to know if taking side in political party would create violence among youth in the US? Lastly, it should be interesting to know if there is any research on youth behavior development in politics from the past till now .
Mr. Sambath Bun is a Cambodian human rights activist and founding member of the Center for Critical Thinking and Development, which focuses on using applied research to contribute to the sustainable development of Cambodia. Sambath has an M.A. in Public Policy in Development Policy and Graduate Diploma in Public Administration from Australian National University and his B.A. in Education in English Teaching and Information Technology. He has been working for more than seven years on development issues, especially youth empowerment and education including monitoring, evaluation and budget management at local NGOs and international institutions. He has extensive knowledge on community and social development, and organizes many national and regional youth forums and meetings. He participated with GYC in the Human Rights Program in Cambodia in 2007 as a co-organizer of the Learning Community Workshop.