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the anti-trafficking provision was often used to “detain, extort, and abuse sex workers”, and should be “immediately repealed”, adding that “government donors supporting human-trafficking projects in Cambodia should make a concerted push to get this done”.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

  • Hundreds of children in hospital with dengue

    A serious dengue fever epidemic is affecting Cambodia, with nearly 600 children hospitalised in the five Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospitals on Monday alone, a statement posted on the Kantha Bopha Foundation’s official Facebook page said on Wednesday. Because Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospitals provide

  • Gov’t to probe Chinese exports to US via Sihanoukville

    The government is investigating allegations that Chinese companies are using Chinese-owned special economic zones in Cambodia to export goods to the US and avoid tariffs, said Ministry of Commerce spokesman Seang Thay. The move comes after US embassy spokesman Arend Zwartjes said the US had

  • Banh: The Khmer Rouge worse than sanctions and pressure

    Minister of National Defence Tea Banh said on Thursday that having sanctions and external pressure placed on Cambodia was not worse than life under the brutal Khmer Rouge regime. Tea Banh, who is also deputy prime minister, was speaking to military and ruling party officials

  • Using tech innovation to tackle Cambodia’s rampant road deaths

    Cutting corners, rampant phone use, speeding and driving through red lights – these are just some of the reasons why driving in Phnom Penh can often feel like a city-wide game of dodgems. The high death toll on the nation’s roads – combined with several high-profile