From Shacks To Skateboarding: Cambodia's Teens, A Contrast Of Extremes

In rural areas, girls marry young, while in the cities they're free to shop and socialise

Cambodian Teenagers, A Contrast In Extremes | ELLE UK

Cambodia has seen a dramatic rise in teenage girls getting pregnant over the last four years. Yet the contrast between teenage mothers in the countryside, who enter into adulthood while still being children, and young women living in Cambodia's capital city of Phnom Penh is striking.

A recent report by Save the Children said that young girls having babies has increased by 50% in the north of country. This upsurge is mostly happening in rural areas where girls are rigidly controlled by their parents. Consequently, they don't feel like they have many choices for the lives, so they drop out of school and get married young.

But in the cities, lives of teenage women are radically different to their countryside counterparts. Although still very conservative, and subject to strict curfews, city girls also can spend their free time with friends prowling through malls, eating out, or skateboarding.

The increase in teenage pregnancies can also be attributed to widespread misinformation around contraception and abortion. Many Cambodian women and girls think that abortion is either illegal or that it will adversely affect their health.

Tackling these issues in Cambodia requires a lot of careful attention and resources by the government and international NGOs, yet with the re-instatement of the Mexico City Policy by President Trump and the US withdrawal from the UNFPA fund, the services that help Cambodian women in rural areas will become even sparser. It is doubtful that these problems of teenage pregnancy and misinformation about reproductive choices will diminish.

This photo essay has been funded by the European Journalism Centre (ECJ) via its Innovation in Development Reporting Grant Programme.

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Lam Sreypov, 17, right, stands outside a public meeting house after an interview, in the Srey Sornos village, Sangkum Them District, northern Cambodia. Lam met her husband when she was 15 and he was 18. She was married at 16 and got pregnant very quickly. He husband has now been around less and less, and Lam's father thinks he isn't taking care of his family. Cambodia has a very traditional culture, which makes it hard for young women to meet friends or boys outside the home, particularly in rural areas. Teenagers tend to get to know each other using cell phones, text messages and social media, and through the occasional town festival. 

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Theary Pov, 15, holds her 1-year-old daughter, as she works in her family's shop in the Chamroreun village, Sangkum Them District, northern Cambodia. According to a report by Save the Children, the rate of teenage pregnancies in Cambodia has increased by 50% in the past four years. Although this increase parallels a rise in child marriages, surprisingly, the spouses are of more or less the same age, and the families and the couples say they are love marriages. 

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Lam Sreypov, 17, left, cleans her son inside her family's shack in the Srey Sornos village, Sangkum Them District, northern Cambodia. 

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Theary Pov, 15, holds her daughter as she watches her husband, age 22, play carnival games at a twice-a-year festival near her family's house in the Chamroreun village, Sangkum Them District, northern Cambodia. Public festivals are rare in rural areas and are one of only a few events that allow teenagers to socialize and meet people outside of their family's home. Cambodia has a very traditional culture, which makes it hard for young women to meet friends or boys outside the home, particularly in rural areas. Teenagers tend to get to know each other using cell phones, text messages and social media, and through the occasional town festival.

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Pat Sophy, 17, who is seven months pregnant lays on a bed while she waits to examined by a midwife at a women's clinic in Siem Pang, northern Cambodia. Pat and her husband Thom, age 20, are part of an indigenous population in the country that tend to have a lot more children. They married when Pat was 16 and they came to know each other through a party in the village, after which they started messaging on the phone. She has no plans to use contraception and doesn't know anything about abortion. 

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Theary Pov, 15, holds her daughter, 1 year old, at the entrance to her family's house in the Chamroreun village, Sangkum Them District, northern Cambodia. Theary has been married to her husband for two years. She's three month's pregnant with her second child and lives with her parents and her husband. She was 13 and her husband was 20 when they married. Until Theary is 16 years old they can't legally get married but they already had a wedding ceremony. She learned about abortion from the hospital and also knows about contraception but hear that both have given girl's health problems. 

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Mongkul Rattanak, 18, left, skateboards with her friends, at a park in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Mongkul, is one of the first female skateboarders in Cambodia. When she is not skateboarding, she studies in the hope of becoming a lawyer or hangs out with her best friend Esther, who is a self-proclaimed poser and Korean spicy noodle fanatic.

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Girls hang out with their friends at a mall, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Here in the capital, the lifestyle of teenage girls is radically different from that of their rural counterparts up north. Although still very conservative, with girls subject to strict curfews, they can still spend their free time with friends prowling through malls, eating out, or skateboarding.

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Midwife students hang out on the boardwalk, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. All of these students, who are in their first year of midwifery school didn't, know that abortion was legal except in special cases. None of them have boyfriends at the moment, but some had in the past. One had broken up with a boy because he cheated on her, and another because she 'needed to be free'. 

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Girls play video games at a mall, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, July 28, 2017. 

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