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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Legalizing prostitution favoured for diverse reasons

Legalizing prostitution favoured for diverse reasons

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A PUBLIC forum on prostitution has narrowly favored legalizing the practice. But

while there was some consensus on changing sex workers' legal status, the

reasons given were many and varied.

Sex workers at a Phnom Penh brothel

Top of the list of pro-legalization

arguments at the forum, organized by the Center for Social Development on July

29, was giving control of the industry back to the sex workers themselves rather

than to pimps and middlemen. Others suggested the abject failure of the

authorities to control prostitution showed it was an unworkable

law.

Meanwhile, others had an even more pragmatic view. One man at the

forum who said he owned a guest house and a karaoke shop urged legalization,

saying it was impossible to stop people having sex and prostitution was just

part of it.

His view was shared by Soeung Em, a senator, who said that

sex was a basic need of humanity.

"We cannot go against the laws of

nature," he said, adding that harm would come of interfering with the natural

order and drawing a parallel with deforestation causing droughts and

floods.

Dr Chor Ye Heang, a philosophy professor at Phnom Penh

University, also took up the natural law argument, saying: "If we go against the

natural law we will fail."

Meanwhile some people thought that

legalization, but with controls, was the answer.

The representative from

Licadho agreed with the concept of legalization but suggested limiting brothels

to areas outside cities and towns and taxing it at a higher rate than other

businesses.

Those against legalization cited Khmer traditional moral

values and the encouragement legalization would give to unscrupulous brothel

owners.

Pao Pisith, a representative from Phnom Penh, rejected

legalization saying the whole business was a violation of the rights of women

and human morality.

The Takmao village chief said he believed if the

population was surveyed they would be overwhelmingly opposed to legalization and

would support a crackdown.

However he added that once the crackdown was

over the prostitutes would just set up business again in another

place.

The representative of the river front said he supported

legalization because making prostitution illegal encouraged police corruption

and protection rackets. He said the payoffs were made by the pimps on behalf of

the prostitutes, who became, in effect, indentured labor.

But National

Assembly member Chum Tev Ho Noun wanted the law kept as is, and said that Khmer

society did not favor seeing its daughters on the streets working as

prostitutes.

She said she believed women who are sex workers have enough

energy to do more socially acceptable work, and said it was not a long-term

career option.

"The men never come to have sex with the old women with

broken teeth," she said.

"They like to have sex with the young girl who

is able to service their sexual needs."

Chum Tev Sen Arun, Secretary of

State for Women's and Veterans' Affairs, said the only way to deal with

increasing prostitution was to get men to take some responsibility for their

actions.

"A husband should use his wife in the house [for sex]; not go

outside," she said.

Chea Sophara, first deputy of Phnom Penh

Municipality, said that the 30 to 40 percent increase in prostitutes was due to

an influx of sex workers from Vietnam, Macao, Malaysia and Russia.

Dr

Tea Phalla, Deputy Secretary General of the National AIDs Authority, brought a

health perspective to the debate.

He said he was concerned about the

spread of AIDs through prostitution, saying 100 people a day were contracting

HIV and 20 people a day were dying from AIDs.

Ream Sarin, head of the

Municipal Police's criminal office, said that there were two causes of

prostitution: one was poverty and the other was the need for sexual

gratification.

He said he did not like enforcing the law, because many of

the women working in it were doing it because they had no option. He said many

did it to support their parents.

He said he disagreed with a suggestion

of legalizing but heavily taxing prostitution, because he believed heavy

taxation would bring as much corruption into society as legalizing would

eliminate.

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