Kunthea was born in 2001 to a farmer family in Cambodia’s Mondulkiri Province, near the Vietnam border. She has seven family members with three sisters and two brothers in a small house. Kunthea dropped out of school in Grade 4 when she was 14-years-old and assisted her parents by cutting grass for a living.
Three years after she dropped out of school, Kunthea started a relationship with a man. After only one week in the relationship, the man asked her to get married. She did not want to as she thought it was too soon. However, her parents wanted her to get married and she had to follow their order. At the beginning of 2018, Kunthea got married at 17 years-old. Very soon, her husband became violent towards her.
Kunthea and her husband (a 30 year-old paper worker) did not have a permanent home and their income was uncertain. In addition, whenever Kunthea wanted to take part in community activities, her husband prevented her from doing so and was jealous. Kunthea was a victim of gender-based violence and dreamed of having a loving family. Her husband was an alcoholic and abused her.
A month after marriage and the abuse and poverty that came along with it, Kunthea decided to leave her husband and go back to her family house. She was pregnant. Her husband did not accept this situation and continued harassing her for 2 years.
Even though the local authorities knew about this issue, they did not intervene to help her. As a result, her mental health deteriorated. She added ”I filed a complaint and urged the Village Chief and the Commune Police Post to rescue me, but they only spoke to my husband once and after that, he repeatedly hurt and beat me while I was pregnant. I ran to my parents for help and they thought that divorce was the best way. My husband refused to provide his thumbprints in the papers. There was no wedding certificate as he was ashamed that his family and neighbours would learn that the marriage was not legal”.
Living conditions are quite bad for Kunthea. Her daughter suffered from malnutrition and needed medical treatment. She went back to work only a month after delivering her child as a cassava plantation worker to earn money and support their daily expenses.
Kunthea was involved in Terre des Hommes’ Early Child Marriage project as a participant of the awareness raising events led by the health centers in her community. These events are directed towards early married children and youth to create a dialogue about reproductive health and gender-based violence. By being involved in the events, she was able to learn about contraceptive methods, and ask questions and discuss openly about her experiences.
Following the COVID-19 outbreak in Cambodia, the ECM team conducted a study of the crisis' impact on early married couples as they are considered to be particularly at risk of gender-based violence. Kunthea was selected as a respondent, considering her history. The team found out that she was suffering from anxiety and that her income had considerably decreased due to closures of the cassava plantations and pepper farms.
In order to support her in these difficult times, TDH referred her case to the Department of Social Affairs so that she can have access to psychological support. The TDH team in Mondulkiri will continue to support her by providing her with emergency kits which contain dry food and hygiene materials so that she can cope with her decreased income and that she can protect herself from infection.
Thanks to the Terre des Hommes, Kunthea feels less depressed. She is happy to be with her family and being able to share her story with other community members gave a sense of stability.
Kunthea and her parents appreciated that TDH staff visits them regularly to follow up on their situation and they were grateful for the provision of food as it will help them get through the economic crisis. Kunthea said, “Thanks to TDH for giving me these ingredients, it can help me save money for a while, because in this season of Covid-19 epidemic, no one hires workers to harvest pepper.”
She added, “I have suffered from insults, beating, and been accused of having an affair every day. I had to return to live with my parents, while the husband lived in a plantation where he was working. He didn’t give me any money to buy food. I was once beaten up so badly and was taken to a hospital. I advise my sisters in the village not to marry at such a young age. Other girls and young women should get a high education, have a proper job, and not depend on her husband, as I did”.
Kunthea is hopeful for her future and her children. “I want to be a shopkeeper for my daily life, and also work in my own farm sometimes, as my parents gave me a small piece of 20m x 50m farmland after I got married”, she said.