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Youth Knowledge of Democracy Lacking: Survey

Cambodian students hold the Cambodian national flags as they attend the Independence Day celebration in 2006. Only three-quarters of Cambodian youth surveyed in 2010 had heard of parliament, but of those, only two-thirds knew what it does.

UNDP officials said Thursday that Cambodia’s youth lack knowledge of the country’s democratic institutions and their roles, following a nationwide survey last year.

The UNDP and BBC World Service Trust interviewed some 2,000 Cambodian youth in November 2010 to assess their knowledge of Cambodian democracy.

“Many young people find it difficult to explain the role of important democratic institutions, such as parliament,” Elena Tischenko, UNDP country director, told reporters Thursday, announcing the results of the survey.

While many of the 14- to 24-year-olds who were surveyed said they would optimistic of the direction of the country, many said they lacked meaningful participation in the democratic process or civic engagement.

“A lack of knowledge and understanding of democratic processes and difficulties expressing issues of concern are among the obstacles to greater youth participation as citizens,” a report of the survey said.

“Respondents’ knowledge of democratic institutions and their roles was very limited, particularly of elected bodies such as the parliament and commune councils,” it said.

Only three-quarters of those surveyed had heard of parliament, but of those, only two-thirds knew what it does.

While nearly all of the youths had heard of commune councils, nearly a third did not know what they do. About half of those surveyed who were eligible to vote in commune elections in 2007 actually did, the survey found, and only one in five eligible young voters were registered.

Awareness of human rights, democracy and civic engagement was “mixed,” the survey found. “Many young people who had heard the terms did not know how to define them.”

The survey cited “community life, safety, and security” as main concerns of the young, “followed by concerns about poverty, natural resources, land conflicts and traffic accidents, but to a much lesser degree.”

“If our youth lack the knowledge of democratic institutions, our youth do not really participate in national construction,” said Soun Sovan, project manager of good governance at the Khmer Institute for Democracy. “And the democratic process does not progress for the better.”

Tith Sothea, a spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said the survey reflected the “opinion” of a donor organization, but he added that the government was working to promote better understanding of democracy, human rights and law through TV.