Prostitution in Vietnam

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Prostitution in Vietnam is illegal and considered a serious crime.[1] Vietnam's Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA) has estimated that there were 71,936 prostitutes in the country in 2013.[2] Other estimates puts the number at up to 200,000.[3]

Sex workers organisations report that law enforcement is abusive and corrupt.[1]

MOLISA reported that in 2011, 750 prostitutes and 300 pimps were arrested. 251 businesses had their business licences revoked for involvement in the sex trade that year.[4]

Legal situation[edit]

The "Ordinance on Prostitution Prevention and Combat"[5] 2003 states:

  • Article 4: The following acts are strictly prohibited:
    • 1. Buying sex;
    • 2. Selling sex;
    • 3. Harboring prostitution;
    • 4. Organizing prostitution activities;
    • 5. Forcing prostitution;
    • 6. Brokering prostitution;
    • 7. Protecting prostitution;
    • 8. Abusing the service business for prostitution activities;
    • 9. Other acts related to prostitution activities as prescribed by law.
  • Article 23.- Handling of prostitutes
    • 1. Prostitutes shall, depending on the nature and seriousness of their violations, be administratively sanctioned, applied with the measure of education in communes, wards or townships or sent into medical treatment establishments. Foreign prostitutes shall, depending on the nature and seriousness of their violations, be administratively sanctioned in the forms of caution, fine and/or expulsion.
    • 2. Prostitutes who, though being aware of their HIV infection, deliberately transmit thedisease to other persons shall be examined for penal liability.
  • Article 24.- Handling of persons committing prostitution-related acts
    • 1. Those who protect prostitution, contribute capital for use for prostitution purposes shall, depending on the nature and seriousness of their violations, be administratively sanctioned or examined for penal liability.
    • 2. Those who act as go-between for prostitution, harbor prostitution, coerce prostitution, organize prostitution, traffic in women and/or children in service of prostitution activities shall be examined for penal liability.

Following complaints that Article 23.1 was in violation of the prostitute's rights, in June 2012 the "Law on Administrative Sanctions" ordered the release of all prostitutes and replaced "re-education" with fine between of the equivalent of $25 and $100.[3][1] (About 1,300 prostitutes were in "rehabilitation’ centres" in July 2011 being "treated and re-educated’).[4]

Calls for decriminalization[edit]

A survey of 150 prostitutes by the Vietnamese government-run "Institute of Labor Science and Social Affairs" found that 44 percent of prostitutes had suffered violence at the hands of clients.[3] Just under a half did not report the crimes to the authorities. The "Vietnam Network of Sex Workers" have called for decriminalization to make sex work safer.[3] Kimberly Kay Hoang, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Chicago, who conducted a 2011 study of prostitutes in Ho Chi Minh City is quoted as saying: "Legalising prostitution would also reduce violence and sex crimes such as rape and sexual violence. Prostitutes would feel safe calling the police to report instances of violence and abuse by clients, traffickers, and pimps to law enforcement officials." Mr. Le Duc Hien, deputy director of a government department tasked with fighting social evils under the labor ministry, crystallized this by telling the media: "It would be a strategic mistake to tap prostitution as an industry to boost tourism revenues. What would happen if we recognize sex work as a profession but fail to manage it later on?"[3]

Prostitution and the Vietnam War[edit]

During the Vietnam War, a whole sex industry sprung up around American servicemen.[6] It has been estimated that there were 300,000 prostitutes in the country during this period.[7] Prostitutes congregated at bars frequented by GIs, and offered their services. Sometimes, the prostitutes got pregnant. The resulting Amerasian children, of whom there were estimated to be about 50,000, were ostracized and given the derisive name bui doi ('dust of life'). Often, these children were themselves forced into prostitution.[citation needed]

During the war, hooch maids would often clean up after the soldiers in their dwellings. One soldier described the maids as being, "...good Catholics who might flirt with you but would never date an American soldier."[8] At the same time it was not unheard of for maids to "keep the plumbing clean" for soldiers in order to earn some extra income.[9]


There is a problem of HIV among sex workers. Fear of detection prevents prostitutes accessing health services and so infections go untreated and spread.[4] Advocates of decriminalization submit that where prostitution is illegal, sex workers are more susceptible to STIs.[3][10][11]

At a conference it 2011, a paper presented by Vietnam's Labor Ministry, said 9.3% of prostitutes in the country were infected by HIV. However it was considerably higher is some areas: Hanoi 20%, Ho Chi Minh City 16%, and Hai Phong 23%. Lack of access to condoms and medical services were primary causes.[12] Prostitutes may also avoid condoms as they can be used as evidence of prostitution.[1]

A study of 5,298 prostitutes published in 2015 by "Drug Alcohol Depend" concluded that injected drug use is also a key risk factor for HIV transmission amongst prostitutes.[13]

Vietnamese prostitution in other nations[edit]

Vietnamese prostitution is not confined to the country itself. In Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta, there are reports of women being forced into prostitution after marrying overseas, particularly in other Asian countries. In Macau, exploitation of women has been supported by legal organizations. In the end, these women were often forced into indentured servitude or prostitution.[14] Many women travel from Lao Cai to Hekou County in China to work in brothels that cater to Chinese men.[15]

Child trafficking[edit]

In Ho Chi Minh City, many of the prostitutes are under 18 years of age. Some forced into the trade because of economic needs.[16][17] The prostitutes are both girls and boys (called Trai bao ("covered boy") and trai gọi ("call boy")). In addition, children are trafficked due for the need for prostitution in other countries. One non-governmental organization estimates that the average age of trafficked girls is between 15 and 17, although the average age of girls trafficked to Cambodia is estimated to be much lower.[18] In the Sa Pa tourist region, an Australian non-governmental organization uncovered 80 commercial cases of child exploitation by foreign nationals in 2007, the same year that the nation established a child sex tourism investigative unit within the Vietnam Ministry of Public Security.[19]

Sex trafficking[edit]

Vietnam is listed as a Tier 2 country for human trafficking by the US Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.[20]

Vietnam is a source and, to a lesser extent, a destination country for women, and children subjected to sex trafficking. Vietnamese women and children are subjected to sex trafficking abroad; many are misled by fraudulent employment opportunities and sold to brothel operators on the borders of China, Cambodia, and Laos, and elsewhere in Asia, including Thailand, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore. Some Vietnamese women who travel abroad for internationally brokered marriages or jobs in restaurants, massage parlors, and karaoke bars — mostly to China, Malaysia, and Singapore — are subjected to forced prostitution. False advertising, debt bondage, passport confiscation, and threats of deportation are tactics commonly used to compel Vietnamese victims into servitude. Traffickers increasingly use the internet, gaming sites, and particularly social media to lure potential victims into vulnerable situations; for example, men entice young women and girls with online dating relationships and persuade them to move abroad, then subject them to sex trafficking.[20]

Many children from impoverished rural areas, and a rising number from middle class and urban settings, are subjected to sex trafficking. Child sex tourists, reportedly from elsewhere in Asia, the United Kingdom and other countries in Europe, Australia, Canada, and the United States, exploit children in Vietnam.[20]

Portrayal in media[edit]

The Tale of Kieu[edit]

The Tale of Kiều is an 1820 poem describing the life of Thúy Kiều, a young woman who sacrifices herself to save her family. To prevent the imprisonment of her brother and father, she sells herself into marriage, unaware that her new husband is actually a pimp, who forces her into prostitution. The poem is based on a Chinese story and was set in Ming China (1368-1644 AD).[21]

Miss Saigon[edit]

The protagonist of the 1989 musical Miss Saigon is a Vietnamese prostitute named Kim. Echoing the plot of Puccini's opera Madama Butterfly, Kim falls in love with and is left pregnant by a client who is a white American soldier with a wife at home. After he has abandoned her for his American wife, Kim realizes her child's father will never return and shoots herself. The show drew criticism for promoting the stereotype of a dominant/submissive relationship between a Western man and an Asian prostitute.[22] It might also have attracted criticism on other grounds, such as its lack of originality in repeating the basic theme of Madame Butterly, and the improbability of a sex worker's coming to love a man who pays for her services.

Fuck Miss Saigon[edit]

The 2017 book on the sex trade in Vietnam, written by a working prostitute from the Mekong Delta. This is the first account of prostitution in Vietnam by a prostitute.[23]

Am Tinh[edit]

The 2008 Vietnamese television series Am Tinh is a documentary about Lam Uyen Nhi, a former beauty contest winner turned prostitute and drug addict. Eventually, Lam died in 2007 after a battle with HIV/AIDS. The 20-part series focuses on Lam's ups and downs, with 2006 Miss Vietnam winner Mai Phuong Thuy playing the part of Lam.[24]

Full Metal Jacket[edit]

The 1987 film Full Metal Jacket features scenes wherein prostitution is depicted with the soldiers. In one scene, Private Joker (Matthew Modine) and Private Rafterman (Kevyn Major Howard) are approached by a Da Nang hooker (Papillon Soo Soo). One of the scenes occurs during a lull between battles:

Da Nang Hooker: Well, baby, me so horny. Me so horny. Me love you long time. Me sucky sucky.
[later in the same dialog exchange]
Private Joker: What can I get for ten dollars?
Da Nang Hooker: Every t'ing you want.
Private Joker: Everything?
Da Nang Hooker: Every t'ing.[25]

Hearts and Minds[edit]

The 1974 film Hearts and Minds features scenes of prostitution, at both the beginning of the film, and during the middle of it. The first scene depicts soldiers' soliciting prostitutes in Saigon, and the second scene includes interviews with soldiers who are with prostitutes, with questions asked about the war and their current activities.[26]

Lost in Paradise[edit]

The 2011 film Lost in Paradise is a film that features two storylines; the main storyline focusing on gay male prostitution and the secondary storyline featuring a female prostitute. The film also includes violence against prostitutes for being gay. A Vancouver International Film Festival reviewer said that he felt the film's portrayal of gay prostitution was "authentic."[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Sexuality, Poverty and Law Programme". Institute of Development Studies. Retrieved 21 December 2017.
  2. ^ "Sex workers: Population size estimate - Number, 2016". UNAIDS. Archived from the original on 4 June 2019. Retrieved 21 July 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Luong, Dien (13 April 2016). "Will Vietnam Legalize Prostitution?". The Diplomat. Retrieved 21 December 2017.
  4. ^ a b c Godwin, john (October 2012). "Sex Work and the Law in Asia and The Pacific" (PDF). UNAIDS. Retrieved 21 December 2017.
  5. ^ "Ordinance on Prostitution Prevention and Combat" (PDF). International Labour Organisation. 17 March 2003. Retrieved 21 December 2017.
  6. ^ Thomas G. Bauer, Bob McKercher (2003). Sex and tourism: journeys of romance, love, and lust. Haworth Press. p. 173. ISBN 978-0-7890-1203-6.
  7. ^ Park, Jinim (2007). Narratives of the Vietnam war by Korean and American writers. New York: Lang. ISBN 978-0820486154.
  8. ^ Galanos, Louis (1 August 2005). "First Impressions". Retrieved 23 December 2012.
  9. ^ Lee, Rusty (7 December 2011). Still Alive: My journey through war, combat and the struggles of PTSD. And the Perils of Addiction. (And stage four cancer). [S.l.]: Authorhouse. p. 348. ISBN 978-1467848251. Retrieved 23 December 2012.
  10. ^ "Sex Workers, HIV and AIDS". AVERT. Retrieved 21 December 2017.
  11. ^ Bulman, May (20 December 2017). "Decriminalising prostitution could 'dramatically' reduce sexual violence and STI transmission, finds study". The Independent. Retrieved 21 December 2017.
  12. ^ "Vietnam Fails to Prevent Spread of HIV Among Sex Workers". CDC National Prevention Information Network. 2 May 2011. Retrieved 21 December 2017.
  13. ^ Le, L. V; Nguyen, T. A; Tran, H. V; Gupta, N; Duong, T. C; Tran, H. T; Nadol, P; Sabin, K; Maher, L; Kaldor, J. M (14 February 2015). "Correlates of HIV infection among female sex workers in Vietnam: injection drug use remains a key risk factor". Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 150: 46–53. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2015.02.006. PMID 25765480.
  14. ^ U.S. Department of State (2009-02-25). "2008 Human Rights Reports: Vietnam". Archived from the original on 2009-02-26. Retrieved 2011-10-15.
  15. ^ Michael Hitchcock (2009). Tourism in Southeast Asia: challenges and new directions. NIAS Press. p. 211. ISBN 978-87-7694-034-8. Retrieved 2010-07-18.
  16. ^ "Defiling the Children". Time. 1993-06-21. Retrieved 2008-03-01.
  17. ^ "World: Asia-Pacific Vietnam on sex tourism alert". BBC. 1999-06-11. Retrieved 2008-03-01.
  18. ^ "Vietnam". US State Department. February 23, 2001.
  19. ^ "Vietnam". Trafficking in Persons Report 2008. U.S. Department of State (June 4, 2008). This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  20. ^ a b c "Vietnam 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report". US Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Archived from the original on 3 July 2017. Retrieved 21 December 2017. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  21. ^ "The Tale of Kieu". World Digital Library. Retrieved 21 December 2017.
  22. ^ Nemoto, Kumiko (2009). Racing Romance. Rutgers University Press. pp. 22–23. ISBN 978-0-8135-4533-2.
  23. ^ moe, ms mekong (2017). Fuck Miss Saigon: adventures of a Vietnamese prostitute (1st ed.). CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. ISBN 9781981110834.
  24. ^ Dinh, Ngoc. "Nguyễn Quang Lập: Viết 'Âm tính' không dám phóng tay" (in Vietnamese). Tien Phong Online. Retrieved 10 April 2018.
  25. ^ "Clip from Full Metal Jacket featuring the sampled audio".
  26. ^ Ebert, Roger (1 January 1974). "Hearts And Minds". Roger Ebert. Retrieved 21 December 2017.
  27. ^ Tony Rayn, Lost in Paradise Archived 2012-08-12 at the Wayback Machine, Vancouver International Film Festival, Retrieved 26 Nov, 2011

External links[edit]