Valentine’s Day: Cambodia youth told to avoid ‘inappropriate’ activities

Flower bouquets on display on the side of the street, with women preparing more bunches in the background, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Image caption,Valentine’s Day has become popular among young people in many Southeast Asian countries

Young people in Cambodia have been urged to avoid “losing dignity” this Valentine’s Day, as authorities issued warnings about the pitfalls of premarital sex.

The education ministry ordered schools to “take measures to prevent inappropriate activities on Valentine’s Day”.

It added that the occasion was “not tradition of our Khmer nationality”.

Sex before marriage, particularly among women, is considered taboo in Cambodia.

Valentine’s Day has become popular among young people in the Southeast Asian country in recent years, with many shops and street stalls selling flowers like roses wrapped in pink and red cellophane and heart-shaped goods around the time.

But people with more traditional, socially-conservative beliefs view it as a foreign celebration that threatens the country’s Buddhist culture.

The Chbab Srey (the Code of Conduct for Women) outlines the behaviour expected of women and girls in Cambodia. It suggests that women must be “virtuous” and central to domestic life, according to the UN.

The ministry of women’s affairs joined calls to couples celebrating on Wednesday, saying some people “misunderstand the meaning” of Valentine’s Day.

And the ministry of culture weighed in by asking authorities and parents to remind children to use the day “in line with the beautiful Khmer tradition for the sake of their honour and dignity”.

Cambodia’s National Aids Authority also urged people to avoid engaging in sexual activity and asked them to mark the occasion by celebrating their love for family and friends.

Cambodia is not the only country where 14 February has caused controversy in the past.

From 2008 to 2019, religious police in Saudi Arabia banned the sale of Valentine’s gifts, including red roses, as authorities considered the celebration un-Islamic.

In India and Pakistan, religious groups also previously protested against Valentine’s Day celebrations, saying they are an insult to Hinduism and Islam.

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