MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
In Cambodia, if a foreign man wants to marry a Cambodian woman, there are some new government requirements. He'll have to be young, under 50, and he'll have to be financially stable, making more that $2,500 a month. Cambodia has seen a surge in international marriages and the government made these new rules in an attempt to prevent human trafficking.
NPR's Anthony Kuhn went to Phnom Penh.
ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Tourists and locals flock to Sisowath Quay, a strip of bars, restaurants and hotels overlooking the Tonle Sap River. Just up the street is Rory's Pub, where a Celtic cross and a Bushmills Whiskey sign hang on the wall. The current owner is a 45 year old Seattleite.
CHAD FOUCHER: My name is Chad Foucher, owner of Rory's Pub. It's really nice here. It's a very laid back city. There's plenty of things to do. It's cheap to live here and I think that's the draw for people.
KUHN: Also working behind the bar is Foucher's young Cambodian wife.
MEN SOEY LEAP: My name, Men Soey Leap, and I'm 23 years old.
KUHN: Foucher and his wife got married last year, before the new rule came out. Otherwise, he says he might not have met the government's minimum monthly income requirement of $2,550.
Cambodia's foreign ministry, which issued the rule this spring, explained it as an attempt to prevent sex trafficking and pedophilia. The English language Phnom Penh Post quoted foreign ministry spokesman Koy Kuong as offering another explanation.
We want people getting married to look like proper couples, he said, not like a grandfather and a granddaughter. Older foreign men with younger local women are a common sight on the streets of Phnom Penh.
It's a phenomenon that unsettles some Cambodians, including Mu Sochua, a liberal member of parliament who happens to be married to an American.
MU SOCHUA: My gut feeling is when I see a difference in age - a very young woman, almost a child, with an older man - in this culture, if he's a foreigner, it's for sure she is bought.
KUHN: That said, Mu opposes the new rule. She believes the best way to help Khmer women is to educate them and empower them to make more informed choices about marriage.
Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, suggests that rather than getting into the business of dictating public morality, the Cambodian government would do better to just enforce existing laws against human trafficking.
OU VIRAK: When are we going to police marriage? When are we going to say what couples will look good together or should the state get into that business? And, of course, looking at the past and during the Khmer Rouge when the marriages were arranged by the Khmer Rouge, by the state.
KUHN: According to the 2005 Cambodian Demographic and Health Survey, 52 percent of Cambodian women did not participate at all in the choice of a husband. Critics say the new rule simply serves to reinforce women's traditional powerlessness in choosing a spouse.
Chad Foucher doesn't think much of the rule and he points out that it'll be hard to enforce since couples can just get married overseas instead of in Cambodia.
FOUCHER: I think it's kind of stupid because people are going to find a way, if they're in love, to get married one way or another.
KUHN: Human rights activist, Ou Virak, says the rule is inconsistent because it doesn't apply to Cambodian men, who can marry women of any nationality, age and income range they like. He adds that the rule could have some absurd consequences.
VIRAK: What happens if the woman is actually two years younger, but the guy is over the 50 age limit?
KUHN: But Cambodia's chief Cabinet spokesman, Phay Siphan, advises critics not to get too exercised about the rule. He says that anyone who doesn't like it can challenge it in court.
PHAY SIPHAN: It doesn't mean I'm encouraging people to sue my government, but the Cambodian citizens have a right to go to court to protect their right, the right to choose anyone as their husband or wife.
KUHN: Phay reckons that the rule may even be struck down some day as unconstitutional. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.