Youth workers have identified several societal factors which they say have contributed to a rise in disenfranchised youths. Family issues, a lack of education and peer pressure all contribute to anti-social behaviour among young, predominantly male Cambodians.
A recent tragic case has highlighted the issue. Four high school students in Takeo province were arrested for the killing of a 17 year old who had recently graduated school. The victim was not known to the four.
Pech Vanna, deputy criminal police chief at the Traing district police station, told The Post that the victim, Pet Kosal Sithy, male, 17, recently graduated from grade 12.
Vanna added that according to witnesses at the scene, on February 3, the four suspects had quarrelled with two other students but the two had escaped.
The four suspects were riding along National Road 2, in search of their earlier opponents when they came upon Sithy, who was returning from running an errand on his motorbike.
The four attacked him – perhaps out of frustration at their failure to locate their earlier victims – with a machete. The assault left Sithy dead with a slit throat on the side of the highway.
The suspects fled, but three days later the Traing district police force arrested them at their high school.
“The four suspects were charged by the Takeo Provincial Court and sent to the Takeo Provincial Prison in connection with this crime,” said Vanna.
“They told the interviewing officers that this was a case of mistaken identity and that they did not mean to kill the victim. They also suggested that he [Sithy] was involved in their anti-social lifestyle. We investigated his background and determined that he was not a part of any gang or group,” he added.
Yong Kim Eng, president of the People Centre for Development and Peace, said he believed there were many factors which contribute to the problems caused by disenfranchised youth.
“The use of drugs and alcohol and various criminal activities are glamourised on social media, and young people are sometimes easily influenced by things they perceive as ‘cool’,” he warned.
He said that some young people drank alcohol, and expressed concerns about the Kingdom’s lack of legislation around the availability and advertising of liquor and beer.
“It is true that the alcohol industry recommends drinking responsibly in his commercials, but young men’s brains are not developed enough to understand the concept. If people were all born with full responsibility for their actions, we would not need a police force,” he added.
He was also concerned that some powerful people appeared to be above the law. Many young people imagined that they too could act with impunity.
“It is very important that people – especially young people – understand that there will be consequences for any wrongdoing they commit. Transparency in law enforcement and in the judiciary will help with this,” he said.
“Another environmental factor is their home lives. If a young man witnesses domestic violence without consequences, he will be more likely to consider violence as an acceptable problem solving tool,” he added.
Kim Eng believed schools could do more to communicate with parents and guardians.
“The education system is working wonders teaching maths and science, reading and writing, and so on, but I think lessons that teach the importance of being a positive member of society should be introduced,” he said.
“This would have to be conducted in collaboration with parents and guardians, of course. It may be that local authorities could also play a part,” he added.
He also suggested introducing a billboard campaign near schools that explained social ethics and the importance of the rule of law.
“This would be an excellent contrast to the endless alcohol advertising young people are exposed to,” he concluded.
Sek Socheat, executive director of the Mind Development Organisation, said he believed that any decline in the morality of society was the result of familial causes.
“People are not educating their children as they should, or providing enough guidance and support,” he added.
“These so-called ‘gangsters’ do not listen to their parents or guardians’ advice, mostly because the advice has come too late, or because of a lack of a warm, trusting relationship,” he continued,