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7 billion actions campaign: Youth Forum opens door for ethnic groups to discuss about sexual health and rights

Ratanakiri: Cambodia: Culturally concept, it is acceptable for a teen boy to have many girl friends at the same time among ethnic group of Brao and other indigenous peoples in Cambodia, likewise Khmer. But what's wrong with and why to worry about the concept, while it has been traditionally rooted in their mindset and become acceptable to every part of their community?

Naturally, people are born equally. People have right to live with dignity and respect which is the fundamental element of human rights.

"Every woman, man and child has right to enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity - regardless of social status, religion, belief...", enshrined in the Declaration of Human Rights. Likewise, the rights of indigenous peoples have been enhanced through the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples that their rights to culture, identify, language, employment, health, education and other social issues are strengthened. This prohibits discrimination against indigenous people and prevents social insecurity.

The 2008 Cambodian Population Census revealed 23 different indigenous groups that are residing mostly in hill tribe/high land areas. Based on spoken minority languages, there is 383,273 people which is account at about 3 percent of the total population of 13.8 million. Cambodia is a multi-ethnic society where comprises of the Vietnamese, Chinese, Lao, Cham and indigenous peoples. They often bear the greatest challenges that isolating them from economic, social and cultural development, especially women and girls.

"I was sent to school at 8 years old but stop at grade 4th and I have been helping my parents to do housework, since then" the 15 years old Brao origin girl said.

"Though I find myself do not have enough understanding of Khmer language, I'm just fortunate that my parents allowed me come out from home and take part in social forum. I have a chance to meet other youth from different minority groups to make friends, learn the problems and listen different stories" she added.

Chae Seila is a 15 years old Brao origin residing in village 5, Banlung, Rattanakiri province had learned about the youth forum from her peers and made herself be part of this by granting permission from her parents. She added as saying "I'm interested in the forum because I want to know what they will talk about. Because I do not have chance go to school, this is a great opportunity like going back to school again".

The forum was organized as part of the 7 Billion Actions campaign to raise youth's awareness on sexual reproductive health and rights and call for action towards safer practices to lead their lives healthy in the world of 7 billion.

"The reason of holding this forum are first, to celebrate the international youth day, second to promote sexual and reproductive health and rights among young people living in indigenous areas and to encourage young people to take action as the world reaching 7 billion", said Mr. Choun Borith, executive director of the Khmer Youth and Social Development.

As more and more people joining the world of already crowded population, the call for action to address existing challenges like poverty, discrimination, violence, health, inequality and vulnerability become more urgent. The kind of forum is one way of promoting indigenous youth's full participation in solving social issues such as sexual reproductive health and right that is still a matter to them, but their rights to basic human rights.

"When young people can exercise their right to health, education and decent working conditions, they can improve the capacities of their nations to escape poverty," said Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, UNFPA Executive Director.

Not only Prao, but other ethnic groups like Kuoy and Bunong also attended the forum and shared their interest, concern and stories behind. While many agree that it's common for boy to have love/sexual relationship with many girlfriends, they feel that this practice should discontinue as it could disvalue the boy's reputation as well as family. On the other hand, girls will only love any boy with honesty, and those who have respectful behaviours.

".... Before I decide to marriage with any man, I like to find out if he is a good person from his close friends or people in my village. I don't want to marry with anyone who has many girlfriends", said a 17 years old girl of Bunong origin.

Due to small proportion of indigenous peoples in Cambodia, they often left out in development process, thus they are not able to voice up their concerns which put them at limited access to information and services including reproductive health services, screening for HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases or protection from Gender-Based Violence.

As the world is reaching 7 billion people by 31 October 2011, the Youth Forum is one way of calling for innovative action from everyone like indigenous youth to be more proactive to address the existing and new challenges and turn them into opportunity for themselves, families and communities. Many of them expressed the need to build capacity so that they could influence for an active role in community decision-making through local commune councils where the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) is working closely with local government to foster greater participation of indigenous peoples in programming and policy development.