NGOs decry Wat Phnom sweeps aimed at ending sex work in area.
IN A PAIR of raids near Wat Phnom, police arrested 19 sex workers on Sunday and Monday as part of a campaign to end prostitution in the popular tourist area, drawing criticism from NGOs who said the government's treatment of sex workers would not deter them from re-entering the industry.
The deputy governor of Daun Penh district, Sok Penh Vuth, said local authorities were focusing on preventing prostitution near Wat Phnom because of its value as a tourist site that is of historic importance to the city.
"We will clear prostitution in all areas, but especially at Wat Phnom because it is a place that attracts many foreigners, and it is the birthplace of Phnom Penh," he said. "It is a sacred site, so we do not want improper acts around this place."
Hov Shinith, the Wat Phnom commune chief, said police had arrested 40 sex workers in the commune so far this month.
"We patrol around Wat Phnom every night. We will not allow prostitution," he said.
In addition to the arrests this week, police earlier this month arrested 15 people at Blue Lagoon, a bar located on Street 108 that authorities said offered customers the option of watching women strip naked.
The area around Wat Phnom has been the focus of police sweeps for months. In May, shortly before an ASEAN ministerial meeting, more than 55 people - including a number of sex workers - were picked up by police and brought to government and NGO rehabilitation centres.
Hov Shinith said the 19 suspected sex workers arrested this week were sent to the Phnom Penh Municipal Department of Social Affairs.
But Sorn Sophal, the department's director, said they were immediately sent to NGOs because the department did not have the resources needed to help them.
"At the social affairs department, we do not have programmes to train or educate sex workers, so we send them to our partner organisations," he said, though he declined to name the organisations to which the sex workers were sent.
Though Sorn Sophal cited a lack of resources to help arrested sex workers transition to other occupations, San Arun, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Women's Affairs, said the government had recognised the importance of economic empowerment for sex workers.
"We understand that to help them we have to come up with something so they can support themselves," she said. "We have women's centres, in different provinces, to train women to do sewing and weaving."
Women's Affairs Minister Ing Kantha Phavi could not be reached Tuesday, though she told the Post in May that the government planned to allocate funds to training programmes for sex workers.
But several NGO workers said Tuesday that the government had continued to focus on short-term sweeps rather than long-term training, a policy they described as ineffective.
"Authorities are wasting their time and energy cracking down on sex workers, because they will go back to their old careers. They are not trained with new skills," said Lim Mony, the women's programme officer for the local rights group Adhoc.
Sara Bradford, a technical adviser for the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers in Cambodia, said the government's policy of temporarily detaining sex workers would not result in a decline in sex trafficking.
"If the Cambodian government wants to see results in their anti-trafficking campaign, they need to stop arbitrarily detaining sex workers under the guise of ending trafficking," she said.
"It is a waste of government and NGO money to detain and 'rehabilitate' consenting adults who choose to be sex workers."