Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - ‘Soliciting’ law flawed, say rights advocates

‘Soliciting’ law flawed, say rights advocates

Sex workers wait for customers at the capital's Wat Phnom late at night in 2009.
Sex workers wait for customers at the capital's Wat Phnom late at night in 2009. Sovan Philong

‘Soliciting’ law flawed, say rights advocates

Gender and rights advocates have called for the overhaul of “soliciting” and prostitution laws in Cambodia in the wake of last week’s detention of several sex workers at the notorious Prey Speu rehabilitation centre.

Researcher Kasumi Nakagawa said, based on a small survey of 31 sex workers she conducted in March and compiled last month, 74 per cent had been arrested while “soliciting” on the street. About 78 per cent of sex workers were also mothers which, Nakagawa pointed out, made it difficult if the women were detained for long stretches.

“Detention of sex workers who are mothers is also a serious problem as it directly affects the welfare of their children,” she said.

According to her interviews with sex workers, they were largely taken to a police station and given a choice: Prey Speu for rehabilitation, or an NGO.

“Mostly the NGOs options are Christian-based, and women don’t want to go because they are very concerned they will be brainwashed to be ‘good women’,” she said.

Sex workers can be arrested and fined for publicly soliciting payment for sex under the anti-human trafficking law.

Nakagawa suggested legal reform to protect the rights of sex workers. Unless clients stopped buying sex services, which would require making the purchase of sex illegal, demand will continue to thrive and suppliers will continue to “be punished in an unfair way”, she said.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said the anti-trafficking provision was often used to “detain, extort, and abuse sex workers”, and should be “immediately repealed”, adding that “government donors supporting human-trafficking projects in Cambodia should make a concerted push to get this done”.

“[It] is also totally counter-productive since it threatens persons who the authorities should be seeking information from to investigate and stop real sex traffickers,” he said.

Phnom Penh Municipal Anti-Human Trafficking chief Keo Thea disagreed that the law was counterproductive and maintained such round-ups were legal, although the criminal code for solicitation lists only fines as punishment.

“When prostitutes solicit along the street, it creates anarchy to the public, so our police need to round up and arrest them,” he said. He added that beggars were treated in the same way.

But legal expert Sok Sam Oeun said the detention of sex workers, even for “education” at Prey Speu, was unlawful. “The punishment is only a fine; it is very small, but it is big for them.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Omicron patients can stay home: PM

    The Ministry of Health has issued a directive on the treatment of people who have tested positive for the highly transmissible Omicron coronavirus variant, following a suggestion from Prime Minister Hun Sen on the night of January 21. The directive permits home quarantine for those who

  • The effects of the USD interest rate hike on Cambodian economy

    Experts weigh in on the effect of a potential interest rate expansion by the US Federal Reserve on a highly dollarised Cambodia Anticipation of the US Federal Reserve’s interest rate hike in March is putting developing economies on edge, a recent blog post by

  • Cambodia’s first ever anime festival kicks off Jan 22 at capital’s F3 centre

    Phnom Penh's first ever Anime Festival will bring together fans, artists, shops and other local businesses with ties to the Japanese animation style for cosplay competitions, online games, pop-up shops and more on January 22, with Friends Futures Factory (F3) hosting. F3 is a project that

  • Demining rat ‘hero’ Magawa dead at 8

    A landmine-hunting rat that was awarded a gold medal for heroism for clearing ordnance from the Cambodian countryside has died, his charity said on January 11. Magawa, a giant African pouched rat originally from Tanzania, helped clear mines from about 225,000sqm of land – the equivalent of 42

  • Hun Sen gets 4th Covid shot, urges compatriots to follow

    Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife Bun Rany on January 14 received their fourth dose of Covid-19 vaccine and called on compatriots to follow suit as the Omicron coronavirus variant continues to spread in the community. This marks the launch of Cambodia's fourth-dose vaccination campaign,

  • Fourth dose Covid booster drive jabs 43K in two days

    In the first two days of the fourth-dose Covid-19 vaccination campaign, more than 43,000 people volunteered to get the jabs, while over 4.6 million people have received a third shot. Health ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine said that fourth-dose vaccinations, which began on January 14 exclusively with the Pfizer