A workshop to discuss draft legislation on human trafficking and sexual exploitation
heard the proposed law could criminalize aspects of prostitution. Participants said
that Article 18 of the draft outlaws soliciting in public, and required urgent clarification.
Joy Ogan, policy advisor for the International Organization for Migration, said the
draft's section on selling sex was unclear.
"What is the position on prostitution?" she asked. "To criminalize
it, legalize it or regulate it?"
The August 14-15 conference, which was attended by government ministry officials,
NGO representatives and legal experts, also heard that another major problem was
the failure to provide protection for victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation.
Sok Sam Oeurn, director of the Cambodian Defenders Project (CDP), did not believe
the law criminalized prostitution, but said it closed "all opportunities for
sex workers to make money".
The Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation was drafted by
the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and its legal advisor, Japanese lawyer Yoichi Yamada,
to replace the previous law dating from 1996.
The controversial Article 18 states that: "A person who solicits another in
public for the purpose of prostituting him/herself shall be punished with detention
for one to five days and/or fine of 1,000 to 10,000 riel."
Yamada said the draft did not outlaw all forms of prostitution.
"I only banned soliciting in public, so if prostitutes work in brothels they
will not be punished," he said.
Matt Rendall, legal consultant with the University of San Francisco's Cambodia Project,
did not believe the law prohibited prostitution, but said it was unclear as it needed
definitions of both the term 'soliciting' and what precisely defined 'in public'.
He also pointed out that there might be legal problems with the legislation as there
was no article in the draft law that repealed the 1996 law."This should be added
to avoid judges using the old law," he said, adding that trafficking for forced
labor should also be covered by the draft.
CDP's Sam Oeurn said the law should be widened to cover "all forms of trafficking"
including forced begging, forced labor, slavery and the removal of human organs.
Rosanna Barbero, director of Oxfam's Womyn's Agenda for Change, said there was no
need for a new law on prostitution as current statutes were adequate.
"According to Article 46 of the Constitution, exploitation of prostitution is
criminalized but prostitution itself is not prohibited," Barbero said. "You
want to punish the criminals, not poor women, and by making soliciting open to misinterpretation,
sex workers could be subjected to punishment."
Prom Hen, 37, a sex worker, asked lawmakers to "think deeply" about the
lives of sex workers and what they would do if they could no longer earn a living.
"It will make our lives harder and harder because even if sex workers in brothels
stand in the door and call clients, this will also be fined," she said. "We
will be more and more in debt to brothel owners, and the relatives and children we
support will also suffer."
The failure of the law to offer protection to victims of trafficking was highlighted
by Minister for Women's Affairs Mu Sochua.
"I call for a chapter that would define the role of the state and NGOs in providing
support services for economic and social rehabilitation and reintegration,"
Her ministry proposed several other amendments to the law including the addition
of an article that would allow victims temporary permission to stay in Cambodia if
they were, or could be, a witness in a trafficking trial.
"If victims are threatened or deported [for illegal immigration] then we would
lose the core evidence and leave a very weak case for prosecution," she said.
"I want to see prosecutions of traffickers because these people are criminals."