Prostitution in Malaysia
Prostitution in Malaysia is restricted in all states despite it is widespread in the country. Related activities such as soliciting and brothels are illegal. In the two states of Terengganu and Kelantan, Muslims convicted of prostitution may be punishable with public caning.
During the Japanese occupation of Malaya in the Second World War, the Japanese set up a number of brothels for their troops to "prevent the rape of local women by Japanese soldiers, to limit anti-Japanese resistance in the occupied area, to protect the soldiers from venereal disease and to avoid international disgrace". Many local women between 17 and 28 were forced to work in the brothels, employed as what were euphemistically termed "comfort women".
Originally the prostitutes were locals, but there has been an influx of foreign sex workers over the last 10 years. Prostitutes from China, Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia now outnumber locals.
In 2012, the Anti-Vice, Gambling and Secret Societies divisions of the police arrested 12,234 prostitutes throughout the country, of which 9,830 were foreign nationals, including 5,165 Chinese, 2,009 Thais and 1,418 Indonesians.
There are no federal laws against prostitution but there are laws against related activities. Section 372 of the Penal Code criminalises soliciting in any place and living on the earnings of a prostitute. The latter is applied against those who run brothels.
Local health regulations prevent health and beauty establishments (which includes massage parlours) from employing sex-workers.
The Sharia Criminal Offences Act, which brings Sharia law into force, is in effect in Kelantan. Sharia law allows fines and public whipping or caning for "any woman who prostitutes herself". Buying of sex is also forbidden. However Deputy Prime Minister Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi suggests this may only apply to Muslims.
The most upmarket, and probably the best known, is Bukit Bintang. More downmarket is the RLD at Lorong Haji Taib where Indian, Chinese, and local prostitutes operate. Close by is the Chow Kit area where transgender prostitutes ply at night.
In the Klang Valley, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thais, and Cambodians work as Guest Relations Officers (GROs) in the karaoke and Japanese bars. After being brought a few drinks they will negotiate a price for sex. Indonesians work as dancers/prostitutes in the Dangdut Pubs. African prostitutes try to pick up customers outside nightclubs in Bukit Bintang, Jalan Sultan Ismail, and Jalan Imbi. There are also a number of escort agencies.
Demand for prostitution has created a problem of people trafficking for the purpose of forced prostitution from China and Vietnam, even as far as Uganda. A 2009 study by a church estimated that there were 30-32,000 victims of trafficking in the Sabah area alone. Victims are detained without access to legal, medical or social services in 'protective shelters'. After 90 days they are usually deported.
The United States Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons ranks Malaysia as a 'Tier 2 Watch List' country.
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