Rebuilt frieze depicting the death of the Buddha,Wat Steung Meanchy.
Since the late 13th century, when Theravada Buddhism became the state-sanctioned religion in Cambodia, the Buddhist wats, or temples, served as the religious, cultural and educational centers of Cambodian village life. That tradition abruptly halted in 1975, however, when the Khmer Rouge came to power and outlawed Buddhism, as well as all other religious practice. Monasteries were destroyed, and monks who continued practicing were brutally punished, through public disrobings. Ultimately, they were put to death. In the four years of the Khmer Rouge reign, almost 20 percent of the Cambodian population died and the estimated number of monks there dwindled from 75,000 to less than 3,000. Close to two-thirds of the temples throughout the countryside were completely destroyed or desecrated.
In the years after the Khmer Rouge was removed from power, Buddhism struggled to regain its previous influence in Cambodian society. Part of the problem was the loss of infrastructure -- the entire country needed to be rebuilt. Additionally, the education of new monks became a problem, as an entire generation of elder monks was lost. But by 1991, Buddhism once again had become the official state religion. The revival continues, as more monks are trained and have a greater impact on society, through their work with HIV/AIDS education and care.
AIDS in Cambodia
Monk Luy Bora, Assistant Head Monk at Wat Steung Meanchy.
The destructive effects of the Khmer Rouge extended into Cambodia's health care system. In the early days of AIDS, the country was still ill equipped to deal with the problem and the country's large sex industry spread the disease quickly. Since the disease first came to Cambodia in the early '90s, the country has become the nation most affected by HIV/AIDS in Asia, according the UNAIDS, the joint United Nations program to combat the epidemic. The number of people affected peaked in 1997 and 1998, when 210,000 adults, or 3.3 percent of the population, were living with HIV. Today, that number is down to 1.6 percent of the population, thanks in part to support from foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and aggressive government campaigns, including a policy of mandatory "100 percent" condom use in commercial sex establishments and widespread access to affordable condoms.
Sources: UNAIDS, Encyclopedia Britannica, and Ian Harris' "Sangha Groupings in Cambodia," Buddhist Studies Review, Buddhism Today, August 2001.
From Our Files
Cambodia: Pol Pot's Shadow
In this April 2002 story, FRONTLINE/World reporter Amanda Pike follows a trail of mass graves to find "Brother Number Two," the former Khmer Rouge commander, living freely in the country he helped destroy.
Cambodia: The Silk Grandmothers
FRONTLINE/World correspondent Emily Taguchi profiles the ancient tradition of Cambodian silk-making and one Japanese businessman who made it his life's work to revive the art after finding that decades of violence threatened its existence. A link to an extended history of Cambodia and the reign of the Khmer Rouge is included in this story.
Myanmar's Hidden AIDS Epidemic
FRONTLINE/World reporter Orlando de Guzman reports on Burma's AIDS crisis. He travels inside the country talking to doctors and health workers, one of whom explains that it is "the lack of freedom, the lack of scientific information, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, these very fundamental rights that have been denied the Burmese people, have made the spread of HIV more likely and more grave."
India: The Sex Workers
In the spring of 2004, FRONTLINE/World correspondent Raney Aronson traveled to Mumbai's [Bombay] red-light district, Kamathipura, to investigate what has quickly become the center of the AIDS epidemic in India, which affects more than four and a half million people.
FRONTLINE/WORLD Educators: Cross-Curricular Health
This guide offers a framework for teachers to explore with students the factors that have contributed to the global spread of HIV/AIDS through a discussion of "India: The Sex Workers" and an accompanying National standards-based lesson plan.
BBC: The Brutal Truth of AIDS in Cambodia
For the BBC, Patrick Nicholson, a press officer with Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, reports on the spread of AIDS and the relief work of monks in Cambodia, as the international AIDS community pushes for greater access to life-extending drugs for all.
Washington Post: AIDS Drug Trial Turned Away
Last year, prostitutes in Cambodia protested an AIDS drug trial because of questionable health effects and lack of health resources provided by U.S. drug researchers. The trial -- funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation -- was eventually shut down by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen due to concerns about "human values and rights."
UNAIDS: Cambodia Profile
UNAIDS is a joint program that brings together ten U.N. system organizations, including UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the World Bank, to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS. The program estimates that 130,000 people are living with HIV/AIDS in Cambodia, with married women comprising nearly half of the newly infected. In addition to looking at AIDS statistics, the UNAIDS profile examines demographic information, Cambodia's foreign aid and emerging issues the country faces.
Khmer HIV/AIDS NGO Alliance (KHANA)
The HIV/AIDS NGO Alliance (KHANA) provides education, home-based care and advocacy for thousands of Cambodians. KHANA has received support from the Cambodian government, International HIV/AIDS Alliance and USAID. It created self-help groups for people living with HIV and the national network of Cambodian People Living with HIV/AIDS (CPN+).
Save the Children
An Australia-based NGO, Save the Children works for children's rights in more than 110 countries, including Cambodia.
HIV/AIDS Portal for Asia Pacific
This Web site, created by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), provides general demographics, history and contextual information about the AIDS epidemic in Cambodia.
Cambodia's HIV/AIDS Statistical Data (PDF)
This PDF document, compiled by Census 2000, offers a rundown of demographic information about people living with HIV in Cambodia. It includes, for instance, the prevalence of HIV among pregnant women in specific provinces from 1995 to 1999.
PEPFAR Country Profile: Cambodia
This report addresses the aid Cambodia has received through the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, announced by President George Bush in 2003. The report states that in fiscal year 2006, the United States provided $19.3 million to Cambodia in support of the country's efforts to combat HIV/AIDS.
The International Reporting Project
The IRP funds a number of different fellowships each year to encourage and improve the coverage of international stories in the U.S. news media. It is also designed to educate American journalists about global issues through conferences, seminars and fact-finding visits.
The Documentation Center of Cambodia
An independent Cambodian research institute, the center has been documenting the myriad crimes and atrocities of the Khmer Rouge era for almost 15 years. The Web site features a wealth of information on the regime's history and its legacy on Cambodian society.
-- Matthew Vree and Alison Satake