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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Vietnam: The view from Cambodia

Vietnam: The view from Cambodia

As early as the beginning of the 17th century, the Vietnamese were being

accused of sending their women to Cambodia to infiltrate the country as part of

a grand conspiracy to take over the country. Today many people in Cambodia still

subscribe to the myth. But as Chea Sotheacheath and David Venables

discovered, the influx of Vietnamese sex workers to the Kingdom has been

inspired by desperation rather than colonization.

Sitting in a dark,

fan-cooled room, the brothel owner politely asked the Post to wait to see "a

new-comer" - a young virgin who the man said "just arrived one day

ago."

"Not a problem! Let's have a look. And tell me if you do not like

her so I can get you another one."

He then sent for his latest

acquisition.

"I have already delivered [sold] 20 virgins just between the

time of the new millennium and the Chinese New Year," he casually mentioned as

he waited.

"I guarantee! She is one-hundred-percent pure virgin. If [she

is] not pure I will not take the money," the man assured, while adding that a

private doctor would be available to check for virginity and HIV status if a

deal was reached.

The owner then quickly moved onto the business side of

the deal.

"It costs $700 for one week," the man said, adding that the

client could also pay $500 for five days and $300 for one day. But he said it

was unusual to take a girl only for a day.

"Usually everyone takes [the

girl] for one week. They think one week is probably long enough to enjoy the

partner," he said.

A young woman wearing a casual dress and a little

makeup entered the room accompanied by two old ladies

"Sit next to the

clients and have a chat," the owner ordered the 13-year-old girl before he left

the room.

She giggled and obeyed, but she did not talk much. She looked

frightened and sad.

She said she had moved from Vietnam three days

before. She said she had never lived away from her family and she missed her

parents and her baby-brother who was born a few days before she had been sent

here.

When asked why she had come to work in the brothel and if she knew

what she was going to do she looked sad and faced the floor, kept quiet for a

while, and answered, "My family is poor. Sometimes we had no food to

eat."

She said it was hard to find work in Vietnam. Her parents had

borrowed money in the village to buy food and the amounts of their debts had

increased until the parents could not afford to pay them back.

Her mother

had a baby which did not have milk, as the mother did not have enough food, she

said.

She said she was brought to Phnom Penh by an elderly woman who had

approached her parents in her home village.

The brothel owner soon became

annoyed with the questions and interrupted saying: "You don't need to be worried

about that [her background]. The parents and the daughter have already decided

on the matter."

The man praised Van (a pseudonym), saying that she was a

good, obedient daughter who had followed her parents and had sacrificed

everything to save her family.

"She is a good daughter. She sacrified to

pay back her parent's good deeds," the man said.

She is under strict

control. He said she is not allowed to go out even to the front of the house,

nor is she allowed to talk to the older prostitutes.

She has only two

dresses, which she has to wash by herself because she had not earned any money

yet. The owner gave her a daily 2,000 riel credit for food which she would be

obliged to pay back when she started earning money.

The interview was

often interrupted. The owner and his partner often returned to ask whether there

was a deal or should he send for other girls.

"What is happening? You Kuy

[deflower her]? Do you want to see another one?" the man repeatedly

asked.

Five minutes later, another young woman showed up. She shook her

head and smiled in respect and sat down quietly. Van was allowed to

stay.

The new girl spoke Cambodian a little. She said she was from

Choudoc, the Vietnamese provincial town. She had arrived a week

earlier.

She said she lived under the strict control of the brothel owner

next door. The man who brought her warned that she could not stay longer than

ten minutes if her services were not required.

She said her father was a

drunkard. He had spent all the money her mother earned and eventually he had

pawned the rice field to get money. Then her parents had separated.

While

sitting there, the two girls told each other about their lives. They both told

each other that they cried when they went to bed and did not see their family as

usual.

The second girl was taken away when the owner learned there would

be no sale.

The brothel owner was then asked to bring in an older more

experienced sex worker.

Initially he resisted and kept reccommending the

younger of the girls who he described as "a bit small, and a

twelve-year-old."

The owner warned that a client would have trouble if he

took her to a hotel because police and the owner of the hotel would think that

she was not big enough for sex.

Finally, the owner brought in an older

woman.

She was not happy when she was asked about her life. She said she

had the same story as the new-comers.

She had moved from Vietnam two

months ago and said she was sold to a man who she described as rich and fat with

a hand gun.

She said she often saw the man talking to a bodyguard who

came to see him during her one week with him in the Phnom Penh hotel when she

was deflowered.

When asked when they are going back to Vietnam all the

girls said they did not know, it depended on when they could pay back their

family's debts to the owner.

During the Post's visit to the brothel some

other Western and Japanese customers visited.

The owner said most of the

girls in his brothel had been deflowered by foreigners who made contact through

taxi drivers at the airport.

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