Brothels Ordered Closed for Water Festival

Brothels throughout the city have been ordered closed during next week’s Water Festival, and the municipality has also banned sex workers from soliciting customers in public areas, Phnom Penh Vice Governor Map Sarin said Wednesday.

The order comes as 40,000 crew members and perhaps more than 1 million more Cam­bo­dians are expected in Phnom Penh next week for the three-day celebration, which begins Mon­day.

In the past, men have celebrated the races by heading to the brothels. Health workers tell of endless stacks of boat oars standing outside the city’s ramshackle wooden brothels.

In recent years, reproductive health workers have worked overtime during the Water Fes­tival, distributing literature and condoms as they try to prevent hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of race watchers and participants from contracting HIV and returning to their remote villages, where the disease could be spread further.

This year, HIV/AIDS awareness activities—coordinated by the HIV/AIDS Coord­inating Com­mittee, the National AIDS Authority and the Ministry of Health—will begin Saturday and last until Wednesday, the last day of the festival, HACC coordinator Seng Sopheap said.

More than 1,500 volunteers from 47 NGOs will distribute condoms and educational leaflets, Seng Sopheap said. Volunteers are assigned to target areas along the east and west riversides, where televisions and information booths will also help explain the safe use of condoms.

The municipality has also banned all racing boats from moor­ing along the west bank of the Tonle Sap river during the festival, marking the first year that boats will be limited by security measures, officials said Monday.

The 420 racing boats and their crew members are ordered to dock along the east riverbank in Chroy Changva commune, said municipal Chief of Cabinet Mann Chhoeun.

“This measure was taken to keep security in the city during the ceremony this year, and it will help keep our city more beautiful than last year,” Mann Chhoeun said.

During previous festivals, boat crews anchored along the west side of the river created small villages where they cooked rice and tromped on local greenery. This year, boat leaders must build shelters on the 4 hectares of land located along the north and southeast riverbanks in Chroy Changva, Mann Chhoeun said.

The municipality plans to spend 200 million riel (about $51,000) on festival preparations, but is waiting for final approval of the budget, Map Sarin said. Funds will be spent on decorations, racers’ accommodations, cultural activities and sex education campaigns, he said.


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