City’s Sex Workers Campaign for Legalization

More than 70 sex workers protested in front of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs Friday, asking officials to legalize prostitution and provide job training programs for prostitutes who want to learn a new trade.

Legalizing prostitution would put a stop to police who arrest sex workers and then demand “fines” to release them, protesters said. Police usually charge prostitutes between $5 and $20, said Mum, who did not give her full name. “It takes some workers six months to save that much,” she said.

Minister of Women’s Affairs Mu Sochua promised the wo­men—who all work in Phnom Penh— she would complain to authorities about the practice.

Legalization would also enable more sex workers to go to health centers for check-ups, sex workers from Tuol Kok district said. Now, sex workers are too afraid to tell health workers about what they do for a living, they said.

Mu Sochua told protesters the ministry is preparing a vocational training program for sex workers, which should begin in two weeks. She asked the sex workers to participate.

“I want to quit this job but I cannot,” said Chan Sopheak, who was sold to a brothel by her boy­friend. “I want to have a job or busi­ness. But I don’t have money to start one.”

The protest was organized in part by a sex worker’s union in Tuol Kok, although protesters came from around the city.

Most sex workers said they had volunteered to enter their trade because of poverty. But some spoke of being tricked or sold into prostitution by husbands, boyfriends or parents.

One sex worker said her husband told her they were going to Phnom Penh for a vacation, but sold her to a businessman once they arrived at a hotel.



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