Sat, Aug 05, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Cambodian authorities alarmed by nation's first dating agency

DPA , PHNOM PENH

Cambodian authorities were rushing an inspection team to the nation's first dating service, concerned that the concept had the capacity to adversely affect the nation's culture, a senior official said yesterday.

Phnom Penh Culture Department director Mom Soth said the business, Couple Service, was "very worrying" and went against Cambodian culture in a way that could severely damage the character of the nation's youth and even lead to serious social problems.

The department's move came within hours of the existence of the agency was reported in local media.

"This is not Khmer culture. It is someone's human right to operate a business, or to look for a partner for themselves, but when we talk in terms of culture, this approach [to marriage] is unacceptable," he said.

"A business like this is a potential danger to the character of our young girls, young boys and students," Soth added. "They have parents. They should ask their parents, not pay someone and provide a photo."

He said although the department could not immediately say whether or not it would shutter the service before inspecting it firsthand and speaking to its management about its practice, that scenario was possible.

Couple Service director, Seng Leakhena, said her service has already facilitated two marriages and she believed her agency was a good adaptation of a concept common overseas which helped people who were too busy to find a partner socially to find their perfect match with a minimum of fuss.

However, she admitted she had no license and operated out of an unmarked shop front, fearing publicizing her business may frighten off women, in particular, in a culture where arranged marriages brokered by parents are still common and women are expected to wait for the man to approach their family and ask the parents' permission rather than approaching men themselves.

She said she was confident that when she explained the concept to skeptical Cambodian officials, they would understand that, although it went against Cambodian tradition, it was harmless, effective and unlikely to cause problems.

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