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Truant vapers a concern, warn authorities

by Niem Chheng
June 11, 2024

High school students gather at a Phnom Penh cafe. A rise in truancy, along with an increase in vaping and other anti-social activities, has led the authorities to introduce a series of measures to address these issues. Facebook
A young girl, perhaps 15, in a simple white shirt and blue skirt walks into a cafe in Siem Reap town and makes her way to the playground. She perches atop a child’s slide and takes out a vape, then remains for five minutes, exhaling thick clouds of white smoke.

At a cafe in Phnom Penh's Sen Sok district, a group of five to 10 high school students gather over the weekend to play games on their phones and laptops. Many of them smoke cigarettes or vapes as they play.

Such scenes are commonplace in many cafes and marts across the Kingdom, as well as more upscale locations.

It is something that has been going on for years, although some measures have been put in place by the authorities to prevent such places being used for inappropriate purposes by young people.

Similar activities prompted the Kampong Cham provincial administration to announce their latest measures on June 10. They have instructed all local authorities to work together to prevent these kinds of behaviour, warning that it could lead to drug use.

According to the provincial administration, a small number of students regularly ditch school to gather at marts, cafes, gymnasiums, volleyball or football pitches, restaurants or other entertainment venues.

Officials suggested that the truant’s only purpose is to play games on their phones, smoke cigarettes and e-cigarettes, or provoke conflicts and form gangs that could lead to drug use.

In response to this issue, the administration has instructed the authorities at all levels to educate business owners to prevent such activities.

“All town, district and commune administrations must take strict action in accordance with the law against any business owner who does not cooperate or continues to allow this antisocial behaviour or creates conditions for students to continue unwanted activities in their business locations,” said the provincial administration.

“Businesses that do not cooperate or indulge in such activities will face closure and other penalties under all applicable laws,” it added.

The administration also requested that all stakeholders, such as school staff and the parents and guardians of students, guide and educate their students and children, including through stricter requirements for students to be present on campus during school hours.

Chhort Bunthang, a research fellow at the Royal Academy of Cambodia (RAC), believed that preventing students from leaving school and going to smoke cigarettes and vapes or play games will require the participation of all stakeholders, from the parental level up to the national authorities.

He said parents need to keep a close eye on their children's activities and their friends. Schools must have strict policies which prevent students from being absent without permission.

“The education ministry and the provincial Departments of Education, Youth and Sport need to look closely at this. In the past, the ministry took steps to ban internet cafes and gaming parlours from opening near schools. Now, games are available on mobile phones, which makes it more difficult to prevent,” said Bunthang.

He urged closer cooperation between the ministry, education departments and parents.

Bunthong suggested that local authorities should make sure they are aware of what activities students are taking part in outside of school hours. If they see them becoming involved in gaming or vape smoking, they should report it to the school, as well as their parents.

He also suggested setting up a group chat between parents, schools and the authorities, so that student misconduct can be reported.

“For example, if we see them gathering, smoking, vaping, playing games or some other form of anti-social behaviour, we can report it and take action in a timely manner. Businesses like cafes or marts must cooperate and report to the authorities or schools if they see students taking part in these activities,” he said.

“If the private sector does not cooperate and is only focused on making profits, then young people will continue to do these kinds of things,” he added.

The education and health ministries have previously warned about the risks and effects of smoking, vaping, the use of alcohol and excessive screen time. Bunthong believes that preventive measures on this issue require the participation of all stakeholders.

“There needs to be a public announcement which details the actions which must be taken by the public and private sectors to prevent children from becoming abusive, addicted to alcohol or drugs, or addicted to playing games or smoking cigarettes or vapes,” Bunthang said.

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