Living in Cambodia for the past year, I'd be lying if I didn't say I've become a bit desensitized to a lot of what you might consider absurd or socially abnormal at the very least.
Front-page crimes are back-page news, human rights violations are the norm and corruption complacency.
Yet some things still manage to shock even the most hardened Third World veterans.
Case in point -- last month, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced a new law, which was put forth as an effort to shake the country's notorious pedophiliac reputation.
No foreigners over the age of 50 can marry any Cambodian women, even if they were both consenting adults... the same age or older. That means if a 50-year-old man were to meet a 60-year-old woman and fall in love (I'll admit, it's not likely to happen in this country) they would be legally forbidden from tying the knot.
If that weren't enough, foreigners who make less than $2,500 a month are forbidden from getting hitched with Khmer women. This equates to about 10 times the national Cambodian salary, in a country where police make $25 a month, and a hell of a lot more than anyone I know earns, as English teachers are lucky to crack $1,200 per month.
That would be comparable to making about $400,000 as a foreigner to legally marry a Canadian woman.
If that weren't discriminatory enough, the law flat out does not apply to foreign women, who could marry a 15-year-old if they damn well felt like it without taking any flack from the government.
Not to mention the fact that the prime minister declared his assets for the first time in the country's history last month -- at a laughable salary of just over $1,400 a month. Comparably, Barack Obama pulls in a comfortable $400,000 a year.
Yes, that's right you read that correctly. To marry a Cambodian woman as a foreigner you now have to make almost double what the Prime Minister makes.
And if that weren't enough, the King of Cambodia continued to royally fuck the institution of marriage -- by being the only royal family member in the world to not even bother RSVPing to the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
This effort to combat the standard sight of grandfather-esque men trolling the streets for girls barely out of high school is somewhat admirable in theory -- but in practice it does nothing to reduce this accepted, never-ending conveyor belt of white-bread-ophiles.
It only allows, nay encourages, this sexual oppression by the rich and powerful -- quite possibly the worst breed of this predator class.
Instead of scrutinizing foreigners' intentions with the often vulnerable and desperate women of this country on a case-by-case basis, if they were really concerned about this problem at all, the Cambodian government has taken the lazy route (as is the norm) by casting a stereotypical net over the problem.
In a country where 25% of the working class is illiterate (yes you read that correctly as well), this law not only further oppresses women who are longing for a way out of debilitating poverty -- but it also stifles potentially uplifting relationships, as I have met a growing number of foreign men and local women, who have to flee the country to marry the person they love -- or at least the person who will get them out of this shithole.
This is just a taste of the misguided, hypocritical and dare I say megalomaniacal government approach to skirting the real issue, by taking an ass-backwards method of drawing attention away from easily ignored issues such as economic land concessions -- where hundreds of thousands of villagers struggle to figure out where the hell they're going to live in the next decade while neighbouring countries develop rubber plantations and tear down supposedly protected forests.
It's no coincidence that this marriage law issue has been picked up by the Economist, Reuters and AP, while none of them have dare touch on the the selling off of close to 10,000 hectares of a protected National Park last week- - an issue that barely made it into the local media.
Come to think of it, this was a genius move on the government's part -- who needs WikiLeaks when the government can fuck the local population over without even attempting to hide it's motives?