Hun Sen Park, which previously was a busy night market for streetwalking sex workers, is quiet again after repeated sweeps by municipal police in recent weeks.
Daun Penh district penal police officer Khun Ngoun said 46 people were arrested the night of May 25, including 13 men. The women were sent to a short-term Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor-affiliated shelter known as SKK, he said.
Other sweeps occurred south of Phsar Thmei on May 29, with the arrest of seven sex workers near Preah Monivong Hospital, and on May 18, when several sex workers were arrested around the hospital and behind Wat Koh High School, Khun Ngoun said. The arrested sex workers were sent to the NGO Afesip, a shelter that also provides education and vocational training.
Afesip General Director Pierre Legros said the pace of arrests had increased in the past month. He said a recent US government report charging Cambodia with not doing enough to stop human trafficking might have provoked the crackdown.
The upcoming international donor meeting may have also been a factor, he said.
But Khun Ngoun denied the arrests were an effort to clean up the town before the donor meeting. “We crack down on them as our agents tip us off about their gathering at some point,” he said.
The park, which adjoins Prime Minister Hun Sen’s residence and the Independence Monument, is popular among so-called “orange sellers,” who peddle oranges as a cover for sex work.
There has also been a marked increase in streetwalkers in the park since Hun Sen’s November order to shut down karaoke parlors.
The sweeps are typically followed by the sex workers paying fines and moving to another location, said Lim Phai, executive director of the NGO Urban Sector Group, which assists sex workers.
But usually the sex workers soon return to the same spots because there is no coordinated plan to help them, he said.
Sometimes authorities arrange for the women to return to their home villages, Lim Phai said, but many return to the city because they have become accustomed to city life and find themselves as outsiders in their villages.
“There’s no re-integration process,” he said. “Some girls tell us that when they go back they feel ashamed and they cannot stay there.
“We agree the park should be for visitors and the public, to go and relax, but we want to work toward a long-term solution,” he said.