Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Prostitution debate unresolved

Prostitution debate unresolved

Prostitution debate unresolved

One year after a pilot project to decriminalize prostitution and regulate brothels

in Phnom Penh was announced - then quietly shelved - prostitutes in the city

have complained that they are facing an onslaught of abuse from police.

Their allegations have highlighted a debate between government, NGOs and the sex

industry about prostitution's legal status.

Although pimping is illegal under Cambodian law, the act of prostitution itself is

not. Rosanna Barbero from Oxfam Hong Kong's Womyn's Agenda for Change (WAC), said

the fact that the status of 'prostitution' was undefined under Cambodian law meant

many police and prostitutes were unaware of sex workers' rights.

One group told the Post they were regularly chased "like thieves", kicked,

and beaten by police. They said Prime Minister Hun Sen's November karaoke closures

had led to local authorities now targeting brothels. Those arrested, they said, had

to pay up to $10 for their release; other reports said $40 fines were common.

Seventy prostitutes protested outside the Ministry of Women's and Veteran's Affairs

(MoWVA) November 30 demanding protection from the police and appealing for brothels

to remain open. They said closing brothels would not prevent prostitution.

MoWVA minister Mu Sochua said the real issue was not legalization. "The protesters

really talked about being free from exploitation and free from harassment,"

she said. "My response was that we need to enforce the current law and monitor

abuse by the authorities."

WAC sent a report to Sochua several weeks ago that outlined a model allowing sex

workers to set up regulated centralized brothels. WAC recognized prostitution was

an unavoidable reality in a country where women's livelihood choices were limited.

"The whole debate isn't about good or bad, or pro- or anti-prostitution. It

is very complex and there are many shades of gray," said Barbero. "All

we are saying is that [women] who want to work should be protected from exploitation."

Even among NGOs, though, there are sharp disagreements on how to reduce exploitation.

AFESIP, an NGO working with women wanting to leave prostitution, rejects WAC's collective

brothel approach. It also disagrees with both prohibition and legalization and wants

the current law - which criminalizes pimping, but not the prostitutes - enforced.

Pierre Legros, regional coordinator of AFESIP, said exploitation and prostitution

could not be separated, and prostitutes should be seen as victims not workers. "Prostitution

is incompatible with the dignity and value of human life and is contrary to human

rights. It is plainly a form of slavery and cannot be considered a normal job."

Sochua said MoWVA would take the "middle ground" between the various interests.

"In the end we all agree that the exploitation of women is a crime," she

said. "The sex industry is the result, but gender inequalities are the root

cause."

MOST VIEWED

  • Angkor Wat named as the top landmark for the second year

    Travel website TripAdvisor has named Cambodia’s ancient wonder Angkor Wat as the top landmark in the world for the second year running in their Travelers’ Choice Award 2018, an achievement Cambodian tourism operators expect will attract more tourists to the Kingdom. The website uses traveller

  • Hun Sen detractors ‘will die’

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday said those who curse or insult him would eventually die without a plot of land to bury their bodies after being killed by lightning, suffering the same fate as those who recently died in Thmar Baing district in Koh

  • Monks given ‘Samdech’ title for contributions

    Three senior monks on Thursday were given the highest-ranking title “samdech”, with Prime Minister Hun Sen saying that the promotions were due to their contributions to Buddhism. The three distinguished monks were promoted on Thursday morning at Botum Vatey pagoda in Phnom Penh, at a

  • Facing possible sanctions, PM criticises Washington’s rights record

    While United States congressmen are discussing the Cambodia Democracy Act and an amendment that could impose more sanctions against Cambodia’s government, Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday counterattacked by questioning the respect of human rights and democracy under the US-backed Lon Nol regime, and