Prostitution in Cambodia

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Prostitution in Cambodia is illegal, but prevalent. A 2008 Cambodian Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation[1] has proven controversial, with international concerns regarding human rights abuses resulting from it, such as the 2010 Human Rights Watch report.[2][3]


Sexual exchange has existed in Cambodia for centuries, but the events of the twentieth century created a very unstable situation. During the Khmer Rouge years (1975-9) prostitution was completely banned and punishable by death resulting in its virtual elimination in a highly authoritarian social system. Under the new State of Cambodia (1979–1993) commercial sex started to re-emerge. After the dismantlement of the State of Cambodia, about 20,000 male troops and civilian personnel of UNTAC (1992–1993) arrived in Cambodia together with many NGOs and business interests from abroad, creating a new market for sexual services in a very poor country. UNTAC did little to stem the growth of prostitution in the country. Norodom Sihanouk had many reservations about the whole UNTAC operation, for the massive presence of UN foreign troops led in his eyes to the abuse and dishonor of Cambodian women.[4] Following withdrawal in August 1993, demand was reduced, and a drop in the number of commercial sex establishments and sex workers was apparent. By mid-1994 the numbers started to increase again in a period of political instability. By the mid-1990s police were harassing sex workers, but also owning many of the brothels, which were divided into Vietnamese or Khmer. Workers between 15 and 18 were not uncommon, but some establishments, such as those in Toul Kork and Svay Pak, specialised in providing younger workers. NGOs became alarmed by the growth of child prostitution along with number of women and children abducted sold for prostitution. By 1995 it appeared that women from some surrounding countries were entering Cambodia. International concern was raised and some raids were carried out including one by the International Justice Mission (2004). This had a mitigated effect of displacing the workers.[3][5]

The number of prostitutes in Cambodia rose from about 6,000 at the time of the Paris Peace Agreement in 1991, to over 20,000 after the arrival of UNTAC personnel in 1992, and declined to between 4,000-10,000 following their withdrawal.[5][6][7]

The comprehensive Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation[1] was enacted in 2008. It punishes the trafficking of people, the managing of prostitutes and the maintaining of a brothel, as well as soliciting in public and distributing pornography. The mere act of exchanging sex for money is not outlawed.

The Women’s Network for Unity is a Cambodian sex worker organization which was established in 2000. It lobbies for legal and human rights and better working conditions for sex workers and aims to amend the 2008 law.[8]

Cambodia receives Vietnamese prostitutes.[9][10][11]

Sex tourism[edit]

Cambodia has a child sex tourism problem.[12][13][14][15][16] Some children are sold by their own parents, others are lured by what they think are legitimate job offers like waitressing. Pimps are reported to imprison young children who are virgins, not putting them to work until they have been presented to a series of bidders such as high-ranking military officers, politicians, businessmen and foreign tourists. Young girls working in brothels are in effect sex slaves. They receive no money, only food, and there are armed guards to stop them from running away.[17] Children are often held captive, beaten, and starved to force them into prostitution.[14] The United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency has extradited American sex tourists back home for prosecution.[18] Vietnamese child prostitutes make up one third of child prostitutes in Cambodia,[19] and Cambodian brothels employ girls and women from Vietnam.[20]

Violence against prostitutes[edit]

Violence against prostitutes, especially gang rape, called 'bauk' in Cambodian[clarification needed], is very common.[citation needed] Perpetrators include customers and police officers. According to some sources, such assaults are not condemned by society, due to the extreme stigmatization of prostitutes[citation needed]- a survey on opinions on 'bauk' showed that only 13% of the males and 13% of the females interviewed considered that sex forced by a group of men on a prostitute was rape. The most common response - 33.4% of males and 40.7% of females – was that bauk was dangerous because of the potential transmission of sexually transmitted diseases; 12.5% of male and 8.1% of females said that gang rape against prostitutes didn’t hurt anyone because the women were prostitutes and saw many men anyway; while 12.7% of males and 16.7% of females said it was better that this happened to prostitutes than to other women.[21] Despite the social stigma cast on prostitutes, paying for sex is very common among men in Cambodia - while Khmer culture demands female virginity, it links masculinity to sexual activity, and as a result, prostitutes are the object of most young men's sexual encounters throughout their youth and early adulthood.[22] The pervasive sexual violence against prostitutes was also described in a 2010 Amnesty International report, called Breaking the Silence – Sexual Violence in Cambodia.[23]

Public health[edit]

Main article: HIV/AIDS in Cambodia

Cambodia has a high prevalence of HIV and AIDS, being one of the worst affected countries in Asia. By 1995 there were between 50,000 and 90,000 Cambodians affected by AIDS, according to a WHO estimate. Transmission is mainly through heterosexual contact. Factors contributing to this include poverty, the presence of other STIs which facilitate HIV transmission, and a highly mobile workforce.[citation needed] This pattern is also seen in the sex worker population. Improvement has been seen in the last decade[when?] with condom promotion. Since 2001, there has been a "100% condom program" in place, which promoted safe sex.[24]

Opposition to prostitution[edit]

The U.S. State Department frequently condemns Cambodia for its sex trade, and downgraded their categorisation of the country in 2004.[25][26][27][28]

Somaly Mam has fabricated a number of anti-trafficking stories to attract foreign aid donations.[29][30] Mam ran the foundation AFESIP, which has been influential in helping the police raid hotels and kidnap their employees.[28][31][32]

Some international commentators have noted that the garment industry in Cambodia is abusive,[33] and efforts to remove sex workers from brothels and give them jobs making clothes can backfire if some return to the brothels.[34][35]

See also[edit]

Svay Pak


  1. ^ a b "Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation - 15-02-2008 - English". Scribd. 
  2. ^ "Cambodia: Sex Workers Face Unlawful Arrests and Detention". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 29 April 2016. 
  3. ^ a b Off the Streets: Arbitrary Detention and Other Abuses against Sex Workers in Cambodia Human Rights Watch 2010
  4. ^ Milton Osborne, Sihanouk, Prince of Light, Prince of Darkness. Silkworm 1994
  5. ^ a b Staff writer (4 November 1996). "CAMBODIA: prostitution and sex trafficking: a growing threat to the human rights of women and children in Cambodia". Human Rights Solidarity (vol. 12). Asian Human Rights Commission. 6 (4). Archived from the original on 18 September 2008. 
  6. ^ Soizick Crochet, Le Cambodge, Karthala, Paris 1997, ISBN 2-86537-722-9
  7. ^ "Encyclopedia of Prostitution and Sex Work". 
  8. ^ Paula Stromberg (Mar 4, 2012). "Sex work in Cambodia". DailyXtra. 
  9. ^ Vu, J.B. (03/11/2010, 00.00). "Thousands of Vietnamese women and children sold as "sex slaves"". AsiaNews. Ho Chi Minh City.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  10. ^ "Human Trafficking & Modern-day Slavery Socialist Republic of Vietnam". Human Trafficking, Modern-day Slavery, Forced Labor & Debt ... - GVnet. 
  11. ^ Nguyen Dinh Thang, PhD; Vu Quoc Dung; Pastor Truong Tri Hien; Nguyen Cao Quyen; Nguyen Quoc Khai; Ngo Thi Hie (May 2008). Vietnam Country Report Background Information and Recommendations (PDF) (Report). Vietnam Study Group. p. 21. 
  12. ^ Gittings, John (2000-11-16). "The tragic tale of the Cambodian child prostitutes". Guardian. London. Retrieved 2008-03-01. 
  13. ^ Harding, Andrew (2005-06-11). "Trapping Cambodia's sex tourists". BBC. Retrieved 2008-03-01. 
  14. ^ a b "Dateline goes undercover with a human rights group to expose sex trafficking in Cambodia". MSNBC. Retrieved 2008-03-01. 
  15. ^ Hendry, Sharon (2007-12-09). "Far East is perv's Paradise". The Sun. London. Retrieved 2008-03-01. 
  16. ^ "Cambodia gets tough on child sex trade". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2008-03-01. 
  17. ^ "Asian Child Rights". Asian Human Rights Commission. Retrieved 2010-05-18. 
  18. ^ "The US agents tracking down sex tourists in Cambodia". BBC News. 2011-01-30. 
  19. ^ Busuttil, Fanny (15 March 2012). "Children of Viet Nam". Humanium. 
  20. ^ "Trafficking of Vietnamese Women Expands Across Region". Bangkok: Reuters. 18 May 2016. 
  21. ^
  22. ^ Hoenig, Henry (2003-10-26). "France cracking the whip on sex / Liberated nation turns moralistic". The San Francisco Chronicle. 
  23. ^
  24. ^ "Couture et al. Young women engaged in sex work in Phnom Penh, HIV, STI, stimulants. Challenges to HIV prevention and risk. STD 2011". LWW. 
  25. ^ " - U.S. raps Cambodia over sex trade - Dec 14, 2004". 
  26. ^ "Cambodian Girls Driven to Prostitution". Radio Free Asia. 
  27. ^ "Cambodia". U.S. Department of State. 
  28. ^ a b Willem van Schendel; Lenore Lyons; Michele Ford (2012). Labour Migration and Human Trafficking in Southeast Asia: Critical Perspectives. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-66563-6. 
  29. ^ Daniel Pye. "US was on to Somaly Mam". Phnom Penh Post. 
  30. ^ "Officials Hand Donations to Somaly Mam's NGO". The Cambodia Daily. 
  31. ^ Larissa Sandy (27 August 2014). Women and Sex Work in Cambodia: Blood, Sweat and Tears. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-317-64930-4. 
  32. ^ Adam Taylor (29 May 2014). "Why would Somaly Mam quit her own sex-trafficking foundation?". Washington Post. 
  33. ^ "Is buying sex a better way to help Cambodian women than buying a T-shirt?". Slate Magazine. 
  34. ^ "The High Cost of Cheap Clothes". VICE. 
  35. ^ "The Walkabout Is Cambodia's Sleaziest Bar". Vice. 25 Dec 2014. There are the geriatric sex tourists in white socks and sandals whose rheumy eyes go laser sharp when they hone in [sic] on the desperate, teenage hookers whose only other option is working in a sweatshop for $2.50 a day. 


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