A PUBLIC forum on prostitution has narrowly favored legalizing the practice. But
while there was some consensus on changing sex workers' legal status, the
reasons given were many and varied.
Sex workers at a Phnom Penh brothel
Top of the list of pro-legalization
arguments at the forum, organized by the Center for Social Development on July
29, was giving control of the industry back to the sex workers themselves rather
than to pimps and middlemen. Others suggested the abject failure of the
authorities to control prostitution showed it was an unworkable
Meanwhile, others had an even more pragmatic view. One man at the
forum who said he owned a guest house and a karaoke shop urged legalization,
saying it was impossible to stop people having sex and prostitution was just
part of it.
His view was shared by Soeung Em, a senator, who said that
sex was a basic need of humanity.
"We cannot go against the laws of
nature," he said, adding that harm would come of interfering with the natural
order and drawing a parallel with deforestation causing droughts and
Dr Chor Ye Heang, a philosophy professor at Phnom Penh
University, also took up the natural law argument, saying: "If we go against the
natural law we will fail."
Meanwhile some people thought that
legalization, but with controls, was the answer.
The representative from
Licadho agreed with the concept of legalization but suggested limiting brothels
to areas outside cities and towns and taxing it at a higher rate than other
Those against legalization cited Khmer traditional moral
values and the encouragement legalization would give to unscrupulous brothel
Pao Pisith, a representative from Phnom Penh, rejected
legalization saying the whole business was a violation of the rights of women
and human morality.
The Takmao village chief said he believed if the
population was surveyed they would be overwhelmingly opposed to legalization and
would support a crackdown.
However he added that once the crackdown was
over the prostitutes would just set up business again in another
The representative of the river front said he supported
legalization because making prostitution illegal encouraged police corruption
and protection rackets. He said the payoffs were made by the pimps on behalf of
the prostitutes, who became, in effect, indentured labor.
Assembly member Chum Tev Ho Noun wanted the law kept as is, and said that Khmer
society did not favor seeing its daughters on the streets working as
She said she believed women who are sex workers have enough
energy to do more socially acceptable work, and said it was not a long-term
"The men never come to have sex with the old women with
broken teeth," she said.
"They like to have sex with the young girl who
is able to service their sexual needs."
Chum Tev Sen Arun, Secretary of
State for Women's and Veterans' Affairs, said the only way to deal with
increasing prostitution was to get men to take some responsibility for their
"A husband should use his wife in the house [for sex]; not go
outside," she said.
Chea Sophara, first deputy of Phnom Penh
Municipality, said that the 30 to 40 percent increase in prostitutes was due to
an influx of sex workers from Vietnam, Macao, Malaysia and Russia.
Tea Phalla, Deputy Secretary General of the National AIDs Authority, brought a
health perspective to the debate.
He said he was concerned about the
spread of AIDs through prostitution, saying 100 people a day were contracting
HIV and 20 people a day were dying from AIDs.
Ream Sarin, head of the
Municipal Police's criminal office, said that there were two causes of
prostitution: one was poverty and the other was the need for sexual
He said he did not like enforcing the law, because many of
the women working in it were doing it because they had no option. He said many
did it to support their parents.
He said he disagreed with a suggestion
of legalizing but heavily taxing prostitution, because he believed heavy
taxation would bring as much corruption into society as legalizing would