THE legalization of Phnom Penh brothels is being mooted, following the apparent
failure of a crackdown on prostitution.
Phnom Penh Vice-Governor He Kan
recently sent a letter to the Ministry of Health suggesting that it consider
The idea is supported by the ministry's National
Aids Committee, according to spokesman Tea Phala, but the ministry had yet to
prepare an official position on the issue.
Tea Phala said any
legalization decision would have to be made jointly by government ministries,
including the police, and the Phnom Penh Municipality.
He referred to
possible support for the proposal coming from senior officials such as Second
Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Hun Sen, in a December speech to the Ministry of
Health, had said that his personal view was that it was impossible to close all
brothels and no country had succeeded in doing that.
Phala - whose
ministry cooperates with NGOs to provide Aids education and health services to
prostitutes - said that suppressing the sex trade only pushed it underground and
made it harder to fight Aids.
He believed the Phnom Penh police's
crackdown on prostitution, begun in August, had led to more corruption by police
officers who charged prostitutes and customers to enter brothels.
Cambodian Women's Development Association worker, who did not want to be named,
She said some police were receiving $5 to $15 a week from
brothels for allowing them to stay open.
Some even went so far as to
arrest prostitutes and sell them to other brothels, she said.
the chief of the Phnom Penh's anti-prostitution department, said the crackdown
had not been a total failure.
"I think it has not been a 100 per cent
success, but at least our police stopped prostitutes sitting or roving on [red
light district] Toul Kok streets, damaging the capital's beauty and
"And some prostitutes realized that to be a prostitute is not
good. Many Vietnamese prostitutes went back [to Vietnam] - but nobody talks
about that, no newspapers admire us for that."
As for whether
prostitution should be legalized, he said his department would do "whatever the
government orders us to do".
Kret denied that corruption was widespread
among his force. He said he had sacked five policemen for taking bribes from
brothels, and he would do the same to any others he heard about.
police officers were under instruction to arrest prostitutes, "educate" them and
release them within 48 hours.
He confirmed police had asked brothel
owners to sign declarations that they would not open for business, and fined
them if they did.
A total of 326 brothel owners had been charged between
20,000-50,000 riel each for opening for business, he said.
Tea Phala, of
the National Aids committee, said prostitutes' visits to Toul Kok health clinics
had dropped by 20 per cent since the police crackdown, raising worrying
implications for the spread of Aids.
There are an estimated 15,000 to
20,000 sex workers in Cambodia - about 10,000 in Phnom Penh - according to the
committee and the Phnom Penh police.