Fewer Boatmen Visited Brothels This Festival

Brothel shutdowns and an HIV/AIDS awareness campaign helped keep large numbers of boatmen away from prostitutes during last week’s Water Festival, officials said Sunday.

“Less than 10 percent of the boatmen who came to join in the boat racing this year visited the Tuol Kok brothels,” Tuol Kok district Deputy Governor Seng Ratanak said.

Officials pointed to new shelter areas on the east and southeast banks of the Tonle Sap in Chroy Changva commune, as well as di­ver­­­­sions like shows, games and cultural activities for the racers.

This year marked the second straight year Phnom Penh officials have ordered red-light districts shuttered during the Water Festival, which in the past has been a busy time of year for sex workers, according to public health officials.

In previous years, those walking past Phnom Penh’s brothels nearly tripped over the oars from the racing boats as thousands of racers from all over the country took advantage of one of the more dubious treasures of the city.

There were 300 boatmen in Tuol Kok, where most of the district’s brothels are located, but only a handful actually used prostitutes, Seng Ratanak said. “We sent some police to stand in front of the brothels,” he said.

In Russei Keo district, home to the infamous Svay Pak red-light area, officials blocked the main road into the brothel neighborhoods, district Deputy Governor Touch Kim Heng said.

HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns also helped keep the boatmen away, officials said.

“There were a lot of boatmen who wanted to go to those places but I explained and educated them about AIDS, and told them to go back,” Touch Kim Heng said.

AIDS awareness is already reaping its own rewards, HIV/ AIDS Coordinating Committee coordinator Seng Sopheap said.

“During our AIDS campaign, we made a question-and-answer program about AIDS and about eight out of every 10 could an­swer the questions well,” he said.

The boatmen are also less shy about talking about AIDS, giving hope that the word will spread further, Seng Sopheap said.

“When they get these pamphlets, they’ll take them back to their hometown and educate their relatives and friends,” he said.


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