A Vietnamese state-owned news outlet reported Friday that there are 45,000 prostitutes in Phnom Penh and that approximately 60 percent of them are Vietnamese, attributing the statistics to Unicef. While authorities and human rights officials agree that human trafficking and prostitution are problems in Cambodia, they do not believe the figures can be backed up.
“We have been reviewing some of our key documents related to human trafficking from and to Vietnam, and we’re not able to identify any data that would allow us to concur,” said Sandra Bisin, chief of communications at Unicef in Vietnam, referring to a news report from VietnamNet.
“I also checked with our Child Protection section chief, who cannot recollect any interview with any national/Vietnamese reporters on such an issue,” Ms Bisin said in an e-mail.
While human rights groups expressed skepticism with the numbers, government officials outright dismissed them, claiming they are completely unsubstantiated.
“[Prostitution in Phnom Penh] does not have such a number,” said Touch Sarom, Phnom Penh municipality deputy governor. “The report is unacceptable.”
Cheav Phally, deputy director of the anti-trafficking department at the Ministry of Interior, also said the number was suspect. “We don’t have any brothels, so where could they have possibly gotten this from?” he said.
The VietnamNet article also claims that there have been about 440 Vietnamese women and children trafficked and sold into Cambodia over the past five years.
“In Vietnam, trafficking can take the form of arranged marriages that frequently result in the women becoming domestic slaves rather than wives,” the report says. “Other victims find themselves in the sex trade instead of the factory job they were promised.”
Ms Bisin believes it is a problem the Vietnamese government needs to focus on, in particular the poverty that often drives trafficking.
(Additional reporting by Hul Reaksmey)