Economic Woes Fueling Sex Trade, UN Report Says Report

A UN survey finds that 58 percent of women and girls in the ‘entertainment sector’ entered it since Sept 2008

The financial crisis has led to a sizable influx of women and girls entering Cambodia’s “entertainment sector,” and by consequence the sex trade, a migratory pattern driven in large part by rising unemployment, the UN interagency project on human trafficking has said in a report.

In a survey that questioned a total of 357 women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 working in Phnom Penh’s entertainment sector, 58 percent were reported to have entered that sector—which consists of brothel workers, street workers, karaoke workers and massage parlor workers—since Sept­ember 2008. Data for the survey were compiled in April and May.

“We think that the global financial crisis has affected the [livelihoods of] women in this country,” said Lim Tith, national project coordinator for UNIAP. “Women who have lost their jobs in the factories seem to be entering the entertainment industry.”

Mr Tith added that whatever the section of the entertainment industry girls are working in, most of them “can have some sort of indirect link to sex for money.”

The report also states that “difficulty for researchers of entering the most exploitative brothels” means the most hardcore establishments could be under-represented in the survey’s findings.

In particular, the report shows that massage parlors seem to be experiencing a marked increase in the numbers of workers, though only 4 out of 135 interviewees working in such parlors admitted to being tricked into work.

More striking perhaps are findings that show 10 percent of the 60 former garment workers interviewed – most of whom who had lost their jobs during the economic downturn – said they had been tricked into working in the entertainment sector.

The report shows that 52 percent of women who entered the entertainment industry said that the main reason was down to “difficult family circumstances.” Approximately nine percent cited easy access to good pay and the same amount said their reason was unemployment.

For all those who cited unemployment as their premier reason for finding a job in the entertainment industry, over 70 percent had joined the entertainment sector in the last nine months.

For those citing family problems that figure drops to approximately 60 percent.

The survey also found that the majority of woman and girls finding jobs in the entertainment sector are finding their jobs through friends and family – 64 percent among karaoke workers and 45 percent among massage parlor workers. Exploitative brokering and “deception” do not appear to be on the rise, according to the report.

For direct sex workers, 79 percent found their jobs independently.

Women’s Affairs Minister Ing Kantha Phavi said by telephone Tuesday that she acknowledged the UNIAP report’s findings.

“Of course we are very concerned about this,” she said. “These women lack skills. So this is part of the reason that has attracted them to entertainment work.”

“It is a risky situation for them, but the entertainment sector can often provide a higher salary than other sectors,” she added.

In order to ease the effects of the economic downturn on the Cambodian workforce the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training is implementing a short-term vocational training program for 40,140 laid off workers to pick up skills in agriculture and mechanics. According to the Ministry of Economy and Finance, the total amount of spending set aside for these programs is $6.5 million.

“We are trying to elaborate their skills and adapt them to the needs of the market,” said Mrs Phavi.

According to Chhoeun Mon Thol, president of the Cambodian Union Federation, a garment workers trade union, other sectors beyond garments have become more popular during the economic downturn due to their better salaries.

“Restaurants and entertainment sectors have become popular for female garment workers,” he said, adding that despite some job openings in garment factories, “girls [still] go to other sectors.”

However, Mr Mon Thol said that there are obvious risks that come with working inside Cambodia’s entertainment sector.

“Clients can give them a beer, get them drunk and try to do something not so good,” he said.


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