Social work

Young people are turning away from politics and social work because of “fear”

Civil societies and youth say youth involvement in political and social affairs is still lacking, saying Cambodia’s authoritarian environment has put them off.

They say threats, intimidation and persecution from activists, in politics, forestry and the environment, to name a few, have turned young people away from involvement because they dread politics.

These remarks rang true during the celebration of International Youth Day 2022 to highlight the importance of youth participation as a crucial element of an inclusive and democratic society.

The event organized by Transparency International Cambodia (TI Cambodia), ActionAid Cambodia (AAC), Cambodia Center for Independent Media (CCIM), Living Arts Cambodia (CLA), Diakonia, Gender and Development for Cambodia (GADC) took place held yesterday at the Hymavari Hotel.

Around 120 participants representing civil society, government ministries, international agencies and youth groups attended the event.

Pech Pisey, Executive Director of Transparency International Cambodia, said that while young people make up a significant portion of Cambodia’s population, it is clear that they continue to face significant barriers in civic and political spheres.

“These include a lack of awareness of their political rights, limited interest and knowledge of the country’s public affairs and a low degree of involvement at all levels of government. The participation of young people in social and political affairs is important because everyone must be aware of and contribute ideas for solutions to important social problems that directly and indirectly affect families and communities.

“There is a need to demand that more opportunities be given to young people to increase their engagement in social and political affairs,” Pisey said.

Pisey, however, said many young people have been deterred from getting involved due to coercion from activists or critics.

“Criticism isn’t necessarily bad, it can be constructive and eye-opening. Young people, however, fear being involved because of our authoritarian social order,” he added.

Heng Kimhong, research and advocacy program manager of the Cambodian Youth Network Association, said the political participation of Cambodian youth remains limited as the political environment has not improved.

Crackdowns on young people who are activists of opposition political parties, forestry activists, environmental activists and young people who are involved in the work of other companies have served as warnings and debtors.

“That’s why you don’t see a lot of young people in politics or in civil organizations. Some of those involved have been subtly threatened and intimidated. We don’t see young people championing a cause. Many are discouraged because they know what awaits them if they speak.

“Speaking out in our society is considered anti-establishment. Young critics are not necessarily anti-establishment,” he added.

In order to encourage more young people to participate in politics, the government should create better conditions by not persecuting young people who are involved in social work, environmental work and other fields, Kimhong said.

“All political parties must offer young people the opportunity to lead groups and units.”

“If young people don’t get involved in politics now, they won’t have the experience to become politicians and won’t be able to take over from our aging politicians.”

“Experience is an extremely important factor in addition to the willingness to get involved in politics,” Kimhong added.

USAID Democracy and Governance Director Andrea Sawka Fiegl, however, said today’s youth under 30 make up half of the world’s population and have experienced a global pandemic, numerous conflicts, uprisings and economic crises.

“In the midst of it all, they figured out how to harness the power of social media and continue to be creative and passionate problem solvers. They lead their families, their communities and their governments,” she said.

“Our goal is to support a generation of young Cambodians who are informed and active in their communities. Our goal is to have a generation of leaders who will support respect for fundamental freedoms and seek to build a Cambodia where all voices are heard. USAID projects are not only youth-focused or youth-relevant, but strive to be youth-led,” she added.