Prostitution in Vietnam

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Prostitution in Vietnam is illegal and considered a serious crime. The government has estimated that more than 30,000 people in the country are prostitutes, although another estimate puts the number at up to 300,000 individuals.


Prostitution is illegal and considered a serious crime in Vietnam, and enforcement by the government is strict. Procuring is also illegal. Some prostitution operates covertly through hotels and guest houses.[1] There are no accurate data about the number of prostitutes operating within the country; according to the government, there are more than 30,000 Vietnamese prostitutes, although some non-governmental organizations estimate a number closer to 300,000. This is most likely due to the fact that some women are not full-time prostitutes, or are being exploited as unwilling prostitutes in a global trade. Other women feel compelled to work as prostitutes because they have few job prospects. There are fewer reports[clarification needed] of the family having played a role in the decision, or lack thereof, to become a prostitute.[2]

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.[3][4] The prostitutes are both girls and boys (called Trai bao ("covered boy") and trai gọi ("call boy")). Additionally, 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.[5] In the Sapa 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.[6]

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.[2] Many women travel from Lao Cai to Hekou County in China to work in brothels that cater to Chinese men.[7]

Prostitution and the Vietnam War[edit]

During the Vietnam War, a whole sex industry sprung up around American servicemen.[8] Prostitutes would congregate at bars where service members would frequent, and offer their services. Sometimes, the prostitutes and women who had intercourse would get pregnant. The resulting Amerasian children, of whom there were estimated to be about 50,000, were ostracized and given the derisive name bui doi ("dirt of life"). Often, these children were themselves forced into prostitution.[9]

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."[10] 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.[11]

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.

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.[12]

Fuck Miss Saigon[edit]

The 2017 book of relationships between Western men and an Asian prostitute.[13]

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.[14]

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.[15]

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.

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."[16]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ "Prostitution racquet busted in central Vietnam". Thanh Nien News. Ninh Thuan. 9 November 2015. Retrieved 11 November 2015. 
  2. ^ a b U.S. Department of State (2009-02-25). "2008 Human Rights Reports: Vietnam". Retrieved 2011-10-15. 
  3. ^ "Defiling the Children". Time. 1993-06-21. Retrieved 2008-03-01. 
  4. ^ "World: Asia-Pacific Vietnam on sex tourism alert". BBC. 1999-06-11. Retrieved 2008-03-01. 
  5. ^ "Vietnam". US State Department. February 23, 2001. 
  6. ^ "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.
  7. ^ Michael Hitchcock (2009). Tourism in Southeast Asia: challenges and new directions. NIAS Press. p. 211. ISBN 87-7694-034-9. Retrieved 2010-07-18. 
  8. ^ 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. 
  9. ^ Benge, Michael (22 November 2005). "The Living Hell of Amerasians". FrontPage Magazine. Retrieved 29 December 2011. 
  10. ^ Galanos, Louis (1 August 2005). "First Impressions". Retrieved 23 December 2012. 
  11. ^ 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 1467848255. Retrieved 23 December 2012. 
  12. ^ Nemoto, Kumiko (2009). Racing Romance. Rutgers University Press. pp. 22–23. ISBN 0-8135-4533-1. 
  13. ^
  14. ^ "TV Tackles AIDS". Thanh Nien Daily. 19 September 2008. Retrieved 30 December 2011. 
  15. ^ "Clip from Full Metal Jacket featuring the sampled audio". 
  16. ^ Tony Rayn, Lost in Paradise, Vancouver International Film Festival, Retrieved 26 Nov, 2011