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the anti-trafficking provision was often used to “detain, extort, and abuse sex workers”, and should be “immediately repealed”, adding that “government donors supporting human-trafficking projects in Cambodia should make a concerted push to get this done”.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

  • PM: All 10 Asean countries to receive Rainsy arrest warrants

    Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Thursday that all 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) member states will receive warrants for the arrest of Sam Rainsy. The warrants have already been sent to Laos and Thailand. He was speaking at a joint press conference at

  • Human rights report biased, says Cambodia

    Cambodia has accused the 42nd session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland on Wednesday of having “undermined the principle of objectivity”. In a statement issued on Tuesday, the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Cambodia to the UN said the Office of the

  • Kingdom okays 2,400MW power purchase from Laos

    A cabinet meeting on Wednesday decided that the government will purchase 2,400MW of electricity from Laos. A briefing document uploaded by government spokesman Phay Siphan to his Facebook page confirmed this. It said Cambodia will buy exclusive power from two coal-fired power plants in Laos –

  • The need to establish research universities in Cambodia

    In an era of the globalisation and internationalisation of higher education, it is difficult, if not impossible, to disregard the regional and global trend toward building world-class universities. Many governments in Asia and Africa are making significant efforts to establish research-intensive universities to catch up