By Sun Narin
United Nations Development program (UNDP) did a survey of the population of 2000 students nationwide in 2010 regarding the country’s democracy and the results revealed on Thurday July 21st, 2011 that Cambodia’s youth lack knowledge of the country’s democratic institutions and their roles.
According to UNDP website, Cambodian youth feel optimistic about the overall direction their country is taking but face challenges on the way to a meaningful participation in the political and socio-economic life of Cambodia. A lack of knowledge and understanding of democratic processes and difficulties expressing issues of concern are among the obstacles to greater youth participation as citizens.
The baseline study involved face to face interviews with 2000 youth aged 15-24 discussing civic participation, knowledge of democratic institutions and electoral participation. It showed that respondents’ knowledge of democratic institutions and their roles was very limited, particularly of elected bodies such as the Parliament and commune councils, a study said.
“Commune councils were a widely familiar institution but what they do was less clear to respondents. Ninety-two percent of youth had heard of commune councils. However, nearly a third of those who were aware of commune councils did not know what they do,” the study said.
“Parliament was the least familiar to youth, with just three-quarters having heard of ‘Parliament’, and two-thirds of these people not knowing what parliament does.”
Youth are the key to democratic participation in Cambodia with two out of three people in Cambodia being under the age of 25 years old and more than 30 percent of the population aged between 10-24 years. Active and meaningful youth civic engagement is essential to Cambodia’s development.
The study found that 54 percent of respondents who were eligible in the 2007 Commune Council election did not actually vote and that 21 percent of the young eligible voters were not registered at all. Youth participation in community-based activities is very important, and yet only 4 percent of the respondents said that they had participated in making decisions on community plans, according to the study. Among the issues to be addressed, the participants of the study mentioned community issues, corruption, gangs, health and domestic violence.
In my opinion, the lack of the youth knowledge of democracy is because of some reasons below.
1. Freedom of expression is still limited and under the suppression of the government: students and youths do not dare to express their opinion and they think if they know much about this they will get into trouble.
2. The access of information: the government limits the information for the people to know through media.
3. The lack of media in the countryside, especially newspaper.
4. Youths themselves do not have the attitude to learn news through television, radio and newspapers. I see that most of Cambodia’s youths do not have the habit of reading newspaper.
5. The subject related to democracy is not widespread in the general knowledge schools. Therefore, students are not able to learn.
As the solution, the government should open the freedom of expression for the people and the access of information for the students as well as the general people. There should be more education on the democracy at schools and on televisions and other media. As the students themselves, they should have the attitude of reading and learning through the media such as television and newspaper, so they will understand much about what is going on with their country and can participate more as the civic engagement.