A NUMBER of brothels in the Toulkok red-light district closed down on 22 Aug in accordance with the deadline issued 30 days previously by the Mayor's Office mandating that all brothels in the capital be shut down.
Koy Chum Nou, the Chief of the Anti-Prostitution Team of Toulkok district, said that about 30 per cent of brothels along Toulkok street were shut and the rest still open but that the prostitutes were hiding inside and not soliciting customers from the street side as was done previously.
Chum Nou added that brothel owners were asked to sign a statement indicating they would close and that if brothels were still open after Aug. 30 legal action would be taken against them.
A female brothel owner in Toulkok who asked not to be identified said that the Mayor's policy would likely give more opportunities to the police to make money. "If the police's pockets are not up side down they can not stop the prostitutes. Money can close their eyes. Of course, we could not open publicly, but (prostitution) will be in secret places," said the woman.
A number of local and foreign NGO's have expressed concern that closing the brothels will exacerbate the problems for prostitutes, make monitoring the spread of Aids more difficult and, generally, increase health problems for both prostitutes and their customers.
At a public forum on Aug 22 organized by the Cambodian Women's Development Association (CWDA), the NGO's president Serey Phal said that closing the brothels would make the situation worse.
Phal suggested that the government should legalize the prostitutes by providing licenses from the Ministry of Health, and the government also should tax the industry and establish policies to protect sex workers.
A 15-year old prostitute who did not give her name spoke at the forum and said, "I have no job besides working in a brothel.
"I think the police can not stop the prostitutes. And I will be continually working in secret places. The government should help with some money or provide skills so that we can run a small business."
The girl said that she could not go back home because her family is very poor and she felt ashamed to see them and her neighbors.
According to a recent CWDA survey on the Toulkok red-light district, about 40 percent of prostitutes are illiterate, 25 per cent have problems at home and were forced to become sex workers
On Aug 23, 95 brothel owners sent a letter to the Mayor requesting the government to re-open their brothels. The letter stated: "We've kindly cooperated with the government, local and International NGOs in working with our girls on education and protection from STDs as well as HIV/Aids . We think the closing down of brothels would make things worse, rather than if they stayed open."