Cambodian perception 2015

  • Cambodians think that there are too many migrants, Muslims and Christians in the country and that 33 % of Cambodians are working abroad. These wrong perceptions can come from lack of information or bias. 

“Perceptions are not reality” is the slogan of the 2015 survey by Ipsos MORI’s on Perils of Perception in 33 countries of the six continents, excluding Cambodia. The study asked questions such as obesity, non-religious, immigration, 25-34 living with parents, average age, population aged under 14, female politicians, female employment, rural living and internet access and built a table – the index of ignorance – from the least to the most accurate countries in their perception over those realities. Ipsos MORI chose the two Asian giants, India and China for the research, discovering that India is the second least accurate country after Mexico, and China got a good place: 25 out of 28, overcome by Poland, Ireland and South Korea.

Cambodian men

Cambodia is estimated to be one of the Asian countries with the youngest population of the continent for the rest of the century.

I found very interesting this research, because it gives us an idea of what people believe in their own country of realities that are discussed extensively in the media. The ignorance about those topics could cause delays in the implement of policies. If people think that obesity is not a general problem, it could be an obstacle for public health.

The Managing Director of Ipsos MORI, Bobby Duffy, said:

“Across all 33 countries in the study, each population gets a lot wrong. We are often most incorrect on factors that are widely discussed in the media or highlighted as challenges facing societies, such as the proportion of young adults still living at home, immigration and wealth inequality. We know from earlier studies that this is partly because we over-estimate what we worry about – as well as worrying about the issues we think are widespread

Duffy explains also that struggle with simple mathematics and proportions, media coverage issues and biases are some of the reasons for wrong perceptions. One common mistake many people assumed is that there are “too much immigrants in the country” in a proportion of 20 % more than what really is.

Following this method, I did my research with 44 students of the Don Bosco Hatrans Technical School in Kep Province, taking young people from different Cambodian provinces, including far places like Ratanakiri, Kompong Thom and Pursat. Cambodians are not so much different to the results of Ipsos MORI about wrong perceptions:

  1. The 14 % Cambodian obesity: Although it is already an alarming proportion of overweight Cambodians, by sure living in the Capital, Cambodians think that the proportion is bigger: 29 %. This Cambodian wrong perception keeps similarities to Indians, where people think that the proportion is 41 %, when actually is 20, while in UK people think that there are 44% of overweight people, when it is actually much worst: 62 %.
  2. Religions in Cambodia: The religions’ proportion in the country is very exact and easy to get in many official sources: mostly 97,4 % of citizens considered themselves followers of Buddha, 1,6 % are Muslims and just 0,1 % of Cambodians are Christians of any denomination. However, Cambodians have another interesting perception: They think that Muslims are 24 % and Christians 28 % !!! Here a good topic to study more. In the last decade, the Cham communities (Muslim Cambodian-Malay ethnic people), have gotten much more attention due to the Tribunal for the Khmer Rouge, where they have been presented as victims of ethnic persecution during the Pol Pot’s regime. The Cambodian government uses to send a message to the Cambodian Muslims during the Ramadan and there is even a Muslim prayer room in the Phnom Penh Airport.  As for Christians, the Cambodian Catholic Church has been very active on humanitarian aid to the country since the fall of the Khmer Rouge – the government never has sent a Christmas message to the Cambodian Christian, by the way -, while other Christian churches take advantage of religion freedom to gain conversions in rural areas. These facts could give a perception to Cambodians that there are more Muslims and Christians than what it is.
  3. The 0,4 % immigrants: I did not find a serious study on what is the percentage of immigrants into Cambodia. By sure it is too low, because Cambodia is more a ejector of population than a good host. However, the Vietnamese migration into Cambodia is very meaningful since the French colony, making Cambodia a bridge to other countries. Gathering some sources, I estimated an immigration number in 0,4 %, including Westerners looking for opportunities in Cambodia (?) But Cambodians think that there are too many migrants into their country: 33%. The reason could be the perception on other Cambodian ethnic groups they consider “foreigners” such as the same Muslims, Christians, Cambodians of Vietnamese and Chinese origins, Khmer Leu, etc. It is a topic to discuss and the need to work in a better perception of who is Cambodian to prevent racism and xenophobia. The recent political controversies with the opposition, has fueled this topic, when some leaders present the Cambodian-Vietnamese ethnic as the political escape goat.
  4. The 2,5 % Cambodian migrants: According to the World Bank, we can estimate the number of Cambodians going to foreign countries for work in 2,5 %. The most preferred countries are Thailand, Malaysia (this one especially for Muslim Cambodians) and South Korea. Now well, Cambodians think that there are too many Cambodians abroad: 33 %, being wrong 30 % more than what really is. The reason could be the frequent denounces of human right abuses of Cambodian migrants in those countries such as fisher slavery and maidens’ abuse. There is also a permanent promotion on working in countries like South Korea. It is possible to hear radio spots announcing schools of Korean language to work in that country for salaries higher than 1,000 USD. It can create a general perception that thousands of thousands of Cambodians are leaving their country for it.
  5. The 6 % aged people: Cambodia is a country of young people and, according to recent studies, it is estimated that it will remain like this during the 21st century, overcoming its neighbors like Vietnam and Thailand​​​​​​​​​ (VOA, 2015; AP, 2015). 6 percent of Cambodians are older than 60, because they belong to a generation of 3 decades of war, where more than 3 million Cambodians died. The population gap between young and old people is too high in the country due to this historical fact. Any visitor to the Kingdom will notice immediately a proliferation of children and young people everywhere. It is a good hope for the country, but it keeps its own limits like the lack of skillful staff that is so much necessary for development. However, Cambodians think that there are more aged people than what it is real: 34 %.
  6. The 18 % women in politics: Although a matriarchal culture and a female population that makes the half of all Cambodians, the female participation in politics is very low. Cambodians perceive it a little higher, giving 28 % of women in politics, 10 % more than reality.
  7. The 50 % labor women: Cambodians have a good perception on labor women, giving 47 %. The most popular work place for Cambodian women is the garment factory, common in the media during the last years due to the activism of workers asking for better salaries.
  8. 80 % of rural population: Cambodia is, definitively, a rural country, with only 20 % living in urban centers, mainly in Phnom Penh, which has a population of about 2 million people. But Cambodians think that urban population is higher, assuming that 59 % of Cambodians live in rural areas. It could be possible due to the media, portraying an urban Cambodia, especially in love stories, musical videos and foreign films. National love stories and musical videos imitate Thai and Korean dramas, where characters are more Chinese-like, white skin and living in a total Western world, while ignoring the fact that it is a rural country where people are mostly in villages, dealing with agriculture and animal growing.
  9. The 50 % Digital Divide: As an advance on my  study of Cambodian Digital Divide, it is about the access of the population to the Internet. The Cambodian case is very interesting, because the divide or gap has been reduced in a very fast way since 2011, after the cell phone revolution. Phones are used widely by Cambodians, including people from rural areas, making Internet more accessible. Cambodians have a good perception over their digital divide and they say that only 49 % of the population has access to the Internet.
  10. The 20 % poverty rate: There are many sources to set up this number, but it would be around 20 %, according to the World Bank that says that about two out of 10 Cambodians are poor, compared with five out of 10 in 2004 (World Bank, 2014). But Cambodians perceive it higher, putting the poverty line in 33 %.

See the Perils of Perception in 2015 by Ipsos MORI:

If you want to see the data I gathered with 44 students of the Technical School (25 men, 19 women, aged 18-22 years old), email me.


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About Albeiro Rodas

Albeiro Rodas (in Cambodia Sky Ly Samnang), is a MA in Digital Communication, independent journalist and a Salesian of Don Bosco from Amalfi, Colombia, based in Cambodia since 1999. He is the creator of the Don Bosco schools of journalism in Sihanoukville and Kep with young people from poor communities and the founder of the Don Bosco Kep Children Fund. Medal for Social Commitment UPB (2010); among the 100 more upstanding Colombians abroad (Marca Colombia, 2012, and among the 12 Colombians that are making this a better world 2013 (

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