After the fun, what happens next?

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Over the recent years, we’ve always heard and seen the government – the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport specifically – doing its best to educate students on the effects of Valentine’s Day.

Yes, there’s definitely nothing wrong with having fun on the “Day of Love”, expressing our affection towards other people. But there’s also nothing wrong with being mindful and responsible in celebrating it.

Washington Post wrote an article in 2015 that Cambodia is “the country where Valentine’s Day is the most dangerous day of the year”. The report says, “A better translation would be something along the lines of ‘someone I think I’m going to marry’ or ‘someone I want to marry.’ And therein lies the problem. Because when some Cambodians think of Valentine’s Day, they think of that songsar, and expect they’re going to have sex with them. Whether it’s consensual or not, research suggests.”

Sad but true, morals and discipline seem to get thrown into the backseat by young couples during the heart’s day.

There have been debates over the topic – one side argues freedom, one side highlights virtue. Which side wins?

For Seng Polyne, a 20-year-old students, isn’t a fan of Valentine’s Day. In fact, she didn’t celebrate it yesterday nor on the previous years. She is also a vocal supporter of the

MoEYS’ warnings against youth displaying inappropriate acts and gestures.

“I remember when I was in high school, and some students did not come to class on Valentine ’s Day since they spent that day with their sweethearts. I also saw they exchanged gifts and some girls got some roses. It is not ethically right in our culture. So I am glad that the education minister showed his attention on this day. I think his warnings are having impact on youth.”

Business Communication student, Nov Soksida, also expressed his sentiment on the unnecessary and extravagant ways Khmers celebrate a holiday that is not even originally part of the culture. And though he somehow understands why some organisations distribute condoms to young couples on Valentine’s Day, he shared that this act is both good and bad.

“Giving out condoms to students and young people during Valentine’s Day may help prevent the spread of HIV. That’s the good side of it. However, in a conservative country such as ours, I believe it is impolite and a bit outrageous to just give out condoms. We are not really very open about that, so it may also seem like we are tolerating young people to engage in sex because we’re giving them protection.”

And while these two young students and some other young Khmers uphold their morals over fleeting pleasures, there are still many young kids who give in to premarital sex.

So, what happens after the fun? What happens to young women who get pregnant but are not in any way ready for the responsibility? What happens to these teenagers’ bright future?

Youth Today’s Say Tola talks with Luy Vibol, the guidance counselor of American Intercon School, to get enlightenment on Valentine’s Day and the misconceptions of young people.

YT: Valentine’s Day is not really part of the Cambodian culture. But why do many Cambodians celebrate it?

Vibol: In Cambodia, young people are really fond of celebrating occasions that are entertaining and fun. It makes them happy to join in occasions which are not necessarily part of what they’re accustomed to. It’s not just Valentine’s Day. We also celebrate Christmas Day. Most of the youths love these festivities.

YT: Valentine’s Day is translated as ‘Sangsa’s Day’ or ‘Sweetheart’s Day’ in Cambodia. Is this right? What’s the reason behind it?

Vibol: It is a confusion. Many young people think that it’s Sweetheart’s Day, so they buy gifts and flowers for their partners. Some even go beyond that – surrendering their morality just to prove their love for each other. Many said that you can only say you truly love someone unless you sacrifice yourself for him. All these pop up in news and wherever. But these are just misconceptions. These are not valid and true.

I think it’s really a matter of educating our youths with how our own culture and social ethics should be observed. In the past, women are supposed to follow the culture strictly. So when the social trends change, people’s perspective on things changes as well. They now tend to follow western cultures and chase freedom in every possible way. If they are told to follow the code of conduct, they would say that it’s old-fashioned and that it does not anymore apply to their present lifestyle.

YT: The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport has continuously warned students to not engage in any act that they would be regretting after. As a school counselor for high school students, how do you also tell your students to be cautious of their acts?

Vibol: All private and public schools have been informed of these announcements from the MoEYS. It’s really good. I get the point of the ministry to keep our youths away from moral misconduct and away from harm. But for Ais, we’ve already implemented rules related to that even before. We always educate our students and let them understand the history of Valentine’s Day and that it’s really about love and compassion to parents, to their families and to their loved ones. This celebration is not merely for romantic couples.

But we also acknowledge the growing trend among youths in Cambodia. So for our students to be able to express their affection and love, we let them write on stickers and stick them on the board. Some students send their wishes through those stickers.

With regards to discipline and morality, students are strictly prohibited from building romantic relationships or to be inappropriately close to anyone inside the school premises. We used to have few cases of sexual harassment, but students were able to talk with the school counselors and they were enlightened about what’s right and what’s wrong. I am personally glad that they listened to us.

We also hold some seminars to raise student awareness on sensitive topics such as reproductive system and the consequences of pre-marital sex especially among the young ones. We don’t just keep silent on these topics because we know that students need to be guided. Where else would they get proper and accurate information?

YT: From your personal view, where can Valentine’s Day lead our youths to?

Vibol: It’s not really an issue if the youth want to celebrate it. But they have to make sure that they celebrate in appropriate ways. For some girls, however, they show their love by sacrificing their virginity and their dignity. This will then lead to unwanted pregnancy. If they try to hide it from their parents, they will try to abort the baby. This then may lead to depression. You see, one wrong act leads to different negative consequences. Students or young people should know and bear in mind that sex is not the only proof of love. Being kind and generous and respectful – these are signs of love.

What the young Cambodians always forget are the traditions and cultures of our country. If they have respect to our social norms, they will know if what they’re doing is good or bad. It’s not really very hard to distinguish it. They just need to think it through, weigh the possible effects and listen to their elders. The youth tend to rush things – even love – and so they get hurt and they also hurt their parents and the people around them. Just always think. Use mind over the heart, and not let emotions overcome their logic and principles.

Yes, they enjoy and have a good time during Valentine’s Day. But they should always consider what happens after that. Will they get pregnant? Will they have a good future with an unexpected baby? Will they be happy? Will their families be happy? Will they be able to achieve their dreams? Young Cambodians are smart, and I am sure that they know the answer.

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