Last Updated: Monday, 30 May 2016, 14:07 GMT

Cambodia: Forced marriages; whether forced marriage is currently practised; protection available from the government; consequences for a woman who refuses a forced marriage

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 9 December 2003
Citation / Document Symbol KHM42219.FE
Reference 1
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Cambodia: Forced marriages; whether forced marriage is currently practised; protection available from the government; consequences for a woman who refuses a forced marriage, 9 December 2003, KHM42219.FE, available at: [accessed 31 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

No information on a governmental or non-governmental organization that provides help specifically to women who refuse forced marriages, or on the police protection available to these women, could be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints for this Response. Recent information on forced marriages in Cambodia was limited among the sources consulted.

It is worth mentioning, however, that forced marriage is prohibited by Cambodian law (UNHCHR 15 July 1999), in particular by the Constitution and the Law on Marriage and the Family (United Nations 23 Sept. 1998, para. 327–328). Men aged 20 and over and women aged 18 and over are free to choose a spouse without the consent of their parents (ibid., para. 328).

However, forced marriages still take place since, according to Cambodian tradition, parents decide who their daughters marry (UNHCHR 15 July 1999). Most marriages in Cambodia are arranged (Alternatives 1 Mar. 2003). According to a report, [translation] "43 per cent of married women met their husbands for the first time the day they were married, and 78 per cent had no say in the choice of their future husband" (ibid.). Men often enjoy more freedom in choosing their partners than women (FVPF n.d.). However, according to a United Nations report, parents normally only arrange the marriage, and it is the children who ultimately decide on whether they will marry (United Nations 23 Sept. 1998, para. 332). It should be noted that some parents, however, still force their children to marry, and a son or daughter who refuses such an arrangement risks being beaten (ibid., para. 333). A marriage entered into against the will of the parents is seen as "cursed" (South China Morning Post 6 Oct. 2000). But, more and more, young Cambodians want to marry the person with whom they fall in love, which sometimes creates serious conflicts with their parents (ibid.). Approximately once a month, local papers publish reports about young couples making suicide pacts because their love was not accepted by their parents (ibid.). Divorce, however, is very rare and is frowned upon (Alternatives 1 Mar. 2003).

During the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 to 1979, approximately 250,000 women were forced into marriage (an estimated two group marriages in every Cambodian village) (UNIFEM 29 Oct. 2003). Groups of up to 30 men and women were forcibly married at the same time, and a woman who refused to live with her new husband would risk "certain death" (The Advocacy Project 9 Mar. 1999). According to some reports, the Cambodian authorities positioned spies under the houses of newly married couples to make sure that the marriages were consummated (ibid.). Only a handful of these forced marriages remained intact after 1979 (ibid.).

For more information on the status of women in Cambodia and the protection available to them from the government and non-governmental organizations, please consult KHM4221.FE of 9 December 2003.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


The Advocacy Project, Washington. 9 March 1999. "Cambodia – In the Shadow of the Khmer Rouge: From the Editorial Desk." [Accessed 20 Nov. 2003]

Alternatives [Montreal]. 1 March 2003. Vol. 9, No. 6. Dominique Jutras. "Une percée politique conjuguée au féminin pluriel." [Accessed 20 Nov. 2003]

Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF), San Francisco. n.d. "Cambodia: Rattling the Killing Fields." [Accessed 28 Nov. 2003]

South China Morning Post [Hong Kong]. 6 October 2000. Kay Johnson and Khieu Kola.

"Death an Eternal Embrace for Young Lovers." (Dialog)

United Nations. 23 September 1998. Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Initial Reports of States Parties Due in 1993 - Addendum: Cambodia. (CCPR/C/81/Add.12) [Accessed 20 Nov. 2003]

United Nations Development Fund For Women (UNIFEM). 29 October 2003. "Cambodia Quickfacts."

[Accessed 20 Nov. 2003]

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR). 15 July 1999. "Le Comité des droits de l'homme achève l'examen du rapport du Cambodge." (HR/CT/99/12)

[Accessed 20 Nov. 2003]

Additional Sources Consulted

Attempts to contact the following organizations were unsuccessful:

- Acting for Women in Distressing Circumstances

- Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)

- Cambodian Women Development Agency

- Cambodian Women's Voices Center

- Khemara

- Ministry of Women's Affairs

- Ministry of Women's and Veteran's Affairs

- UNIFEM: East and South East Asia Regional Office

- Women's Media Centre of Cambodia

Asian Human Rights Commission


IRB Databases

Internet sites, including:

Amnesty International

Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)

Freedom House

Human Rights Internet (HRI)

Le Monde

United States Department of State

US Agency for International Development (USAID)

Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)

World News

World News Connection

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Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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