Forced Marriage During the Cambodian Genocide

In October 2014, the Transcultural Psychosocial Organization Cambodia (2014) published a qualitative/ quantitative study on the long term effects of forced marriage during the Khmer Rouge genocide. It’s called “Like Ghost Changes Body: A Study on the Impact of Forced Marriage under the Khmer Rouge Regime.”

You can download it here.

The report is extremely thorough describing tradition marriage practices, how forced marriage fit into the Khmer Rouge’s ideology, and the diversity of experiences during and after the event.

Traditionally, marriage was a family and community affair. They were arranged with consent and had positive karmic consequences for the couple, the family, and the ancestors.

The leaders of the Khmer Rouge called themselves “Angkor” meaning “the organization.” Their goal was to impose an agrarian society in which families, communities, and ethnic groups were dissolved. Everyone worked for Angkor, and Angkor became mother and father to all.

As a part of this, couples were paired, forced to marry, and forced to consummate the marriage. They were often just rounded up and quickly married in a mass ceremony with no family, ancestral, community, or religious involvement. People who refused were threatened with or experienced violence, and they usually relented.

As you can imagine, the experience of forced marriage was traumatic for everyone and especially the women who were often further victimized in the union. Beyond violence, the participants experienced a sort of spiritual trauma as the marriages did not include family, ancestors, or important religious rites and did not allow for the fulfillment of valued gender roles.

After the fall of the Khmer Rouge, some marriages dissolved while others did not, even when there was domestic violence. The women who left their marriages were often shunned by the community because of the marriage. They also felt ashamed for doing what they must to survive. To me, this seems similar to the experience of the Nigerian women who are freed from the Boko Haram only to experience rejection in their home communities.

TPO ends the report with recommendations to improve psychosocial and legal services for survivors. They also recommend that the Extraordinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia, a joint effort between the UN and the Cambodian government to prosecute the Khmer Rouge, investigate and prosecute those responsible for forced marriage under the Khmer Rouge.


Further Reading:

My blog post reviewing 5 book about Cambodia

“Like Ghost Changes Body: A Study on the Impact of Forced Marriage under the Khmer Rouge Regime.” From the Transcultural Psychosocial Organization Cambodia

Extraordinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia website (with a webcam to watch proceedings!)

They were freed from Boko Haram’s rape camps. But their nightmare isn’t over.” By Kevin Sieff in the Washington Post


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