Year

1988

Degree Name

Master of Arts (Hons.)

Department

Centre for Multicultural Studies

Abstract

CHILDREN OF THE KILLING FIELDS investigates the settlement process of Kampuchean adolescents in N.S.W. Kampuchean refugees have come mostly since the early 1980s, as political upheaval in their country drove them out involuntarily. In their process of searching for a new life in multicultural Australia, Kampuchean adolescents have come upon many obstacles. Backed by very little or no formal schooling (education during the Pol Pot time was completely abolished and the refugee camps in Thailand offered only haphazard schooling), Kampuchean adolescents found it extremely difficult to make headway at school in Australia. While this is not unique among the non-English speaking migrant groups in Australia, Kampuchean adolescents face other special problems. Many are illiterate or semi-literate in Khmer and have a low level of conceptual development as they have missed out on many basic concepts that children normally acquire at school. My study has found that illiteracy in Khmer seems to slow down their acquisition of English, which has generally hindered their social and educational development. Together with that, illiteracy in Khmer means that over time their ability to communicate in Khmer diminishes. This leads to misunderstandings within the adolescent's family as parents' values and cultural heritage cannot be passed on. This can create frictions in the family.

My research shows that Australia has failed to provide· the Kampuchean adolescents with some of their basic needs, such as mother-tongue maintenance, assistance for adolescents with disrupted and limited education, work training, and English language skills. This failure leads to inequity in participation in society generally, as can be observed in the employment field.

As a result of their inability to make headway in education, many Kampuchean adolescents leave school to join the unskilled workforce. Having lived under the inhuman regime of Pol Pot and as refugees in Thailand, the Kampuchean adolescents are not choosy with jobs. Adolescents who have been in Australia for a few years have found it easier to find work than those who have arrived recently, as the former group have had time to build up contacts and spoke more English. Nevertheless, my study shows that Kampuchean adolescents are quite capable of making a valuable contribution to Australian society, and some are already doing so.

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