THE Cambodian Government is preparing to decriminalize and regulate prostitution
as part of a package of legal measures designed to address the problem of sexual
trafficking of women and children.
The measures, devised jointly by the Ministry of Women's and Veterans' Affairs and
the Ministry of Justice, will be tabled at a special interministerial meeting on
December 15, then passed to Prime Minister Hun Sen for approval by the end of the
"Our purpose is to propose guidelines to control brothels and in terms of [creating
conditions of] safety and protection for children and women who are being forced
into prostitution," said the Minister of Women's and Veterans' Affairs, Mu Sochua.
Sochua described the proposed decriminalization of prostitution as a long-overdue
measure needed to both address the current "legal gray area" of prostitution
in Cambodian law as well as to target sexual traffickers, not Cambodia's population
of voluntary, adult sex workers.
While Article 46 of the Cambodian Constitution prohibits "exploitation by prostitution",
the actual legal status of prostitution itself is not defined.
"Some women choose [prostitution] as a way out of economic crisis and a way
to make money, and these women need rights and legal protection," Sochua said.
"The [proposed] law targets [traffickers of women and children] and makes them
criminals. It doesn't target those who choose [prostitution] as a way of making a
Chea Vannath, Executive Director of the Center for Social Development, which in 1999
sponsored public forums in Battambang, Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville on legalizing
prostitution, called the initiative "a step forward".
"It doesn't mean an end to problem [of sexual trafficking] because of globalization
and [international] mafia coming into Cambodia, but this strategy will help,"
The new legal measures will be introduced in a pilot project in Phnom Penh focusing
on brothels and karaoke clubs.
"We propose to work with [brothel] owners," she said. "If they are
found to use children, torture or physical abuse [against sex workers], we will warn
them, give them time to improve or they'll face closure.
"These measures are in no way to promote prostitution ... But I don't see how
we can preach to women who do this work, and we can't allow those people who exploit
them to continue to do so."
Sochua stressed that the success of the proposed measures hinges on "collaboration
and support of NGOs" as well as an extensive public education program.
"[Decriminalization of prostitution] will be difficult to explain to Cambodians,"
she said. "Public prejudice toward those who choose to do that kind of work
is too strong.
"The package also includes a very strong campaign to educate those in the countryside
who are being duped into giving their children to [traffickers]."
The proposed measures were applauded by Chanthol Oung, Executive Director of the
Cambodian Women's Crisis Center.
"It's a very, very hard question, but for me decriminalization [of prostitution]
is the best way to protect women," she said. "Prostitutes need protection
and support [because] they're victims. We need to criminalize the traffickers."