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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Moves afoot to legalise prostitution

Moves afoot to legalise prostitution

THE legalization of Phnom Penh brothels is being mooted, following the apparent

failure of a crackdown on prostitution.

Phnom Penh Vice-Governor He Kan

recently sent a letter to the Ministry of Health suggesting that it consider

legalizing prostitution.

The idea is supported by the ministry's National

Aids Committee, according to spokesman Tea Phala, but the ministry had yet to

prepare an official position on the issue.

Tea Phala said any

legalization decision would have to be made jointly by government ministries,

including the police, and the Phnom Penh Municipality.

He referred to

possible support for the proposal coming from senior officials such as Second

Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Hun Sen, in a December speech to the Ministry of

Health, had said that his personal view was that it was impossible to close all

brothels and no country had succeeded in doing that.

Phala - whose

ministry cooperates with NGOs to provide Aids education and health services to

prostitutes - said that suppressing the sex trade only pushed it underground and

made it harder to fight Aids.

He believed the Phnom Penh police's

crackdown on prostitution, begun in August, had led to more corruption by police

officers who charged prostitutes and customers to enter brothels.

A

Cambodian Women's Development Association worker, who did not want to be named,

agreed.

She said some police were receiving $5 to $15 a week from

brothels for allowing them to stay open.

Some even went so far as to

arrest prostitutes and sell them to other brothels, she said.

Ak Kret,

the chief of the Phnom Penh's anti-prostitution department, said the crackdown

had not been a total failure.

"I think it has not been a 100 per cent

success, but at least our police stopped prostitutes sitting or roving on [red

light district] Toul Kok streets, damaging the capital's beauty and

culture.

"And some prostitutes realized that to be a prostitute is not

good. Many Vietnamese prostitutes went back [to Vietnam] - but nobody talks

about that, no newspapers admire us for that."

As for whether

prostitution should be legalized, he said his department would do "whatever the

government orders us to do".

Kret denied that corruption was widespread

among his force. He said he had sacked five policemen for taking bribes from

brothels, and he would do the same to any others he heard about.

His

police officers were under instruction to arrest prostitutes, "educate" them and

release them within 48 hours.

He confirmed police had asked brothel

owners to sign declarations that they would not open for business, and fined

them if they did.

A total of 326 brothel owners had been charged between

20,000-50,000 riel each for opening for business, he said.

Tea Phala, of

the National Aids committee, said prostitutes' visits to Toul Kok health clinics

had dropped by 20 per cent since the police crackdown, raising worrying

implications for the spread of Aids.

There are an estimated 15,000 to

20,000 sex workers in Cambodia - about 10,000 in Phnom Penh - according to the

committee and the Phnom Penh police.

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