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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Safe-sex program launched

Safe-sex program launched


US-funded NGO aims SMARTgirl campaign at regaining ground in HIV/Aids

prevention after legislation last year pushed sex work underground.

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Participants at the SMARTgirl conference on Friday at the Hotel Cambodiana. 

A NEW US-funded HIV-prevention program is set to target safe-sex practises and reduce the transmission of HIV through its new campaign, SMARTgirl.

Launched on Friday, the program comes in the wake of last February's new anti-trafficking legislation, which led to large-scale police crackdowns on brothels nationwide - forcing sex workers either onto the streets or into the informal sex industry, such as beer gardens or karaoke parlours.

The NGO Family Health Internatiional (FHI) has adapted a new strategy for HIV prevention, no longer explicitly targeting sex workers but using a more "innocent tone" to empower women working in the informal sex industry to demand safe sex from their partners.

"SMARTgirl is aimed at repositioning how people talk about HIV," said Caroline Francis, deputy director of FHI.

The program will provide HIV testing, legal services and drug testing. It will also aim to further clarify the new anti- trafficking law, which can give police the right to arrest women in nightclubs if they are carrying condoms, as they see it as evidence of sex work.

"We hope to update the current 100 percent condom use policy, working with many partners on an advocacy level, including the United Nations," Francis said.

The Kingdom's 100 percent use policy, once touted as a regional success story, was abandoned following passage of the new anti-trafficking legislation, which made soliciting sex illegal for the first time, experts say.

Some 500 people packed a conference room in the Hotel Cambodiana for the SMARTgirl launch on Friday including Mam Bun Heng, minister of health, and Carol Rodley, the United States ambassador to Cambodia.

"In order to help women address their high-risk sexual behaviour and curb the spread of HIV/Aids, the program must move to entertainment venues like karaoke bars and massage parlours," Rodley said.

The new anti-trafficking legislation is part of the US's so-called "model legislation" approach, which activists say  sees all sex work as inherently degrading, all sex workers as victims of trafficking and, therefore, seeks to make prostitution illegal.




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