Authorities in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kok district said this week’s Water Festival has prompted a crackdown on brothels to preserve the city’s image and deter boat racers from them.
A joint venture committee composed of police and district officials has been attempting to rid Tuol Kok of brothels since early 2008, but efforts have been stepped up for the Water Festival, according to Deputy District Governor Sum Rithy.
“The crackdown on brothels during the Water Festival is to [stop] the boat racers from going to them,” he said by phone Tuesday, adding that officials in his district were trying to make the city look good during the three-day holiday.
Police and officials shut down two brothels in Boeng Salang commune Friday, which were still open despite previous attempts to close them, Sum Rithy said, adding that 90 percent of the brothels in three communes in Tuol Kok district have been shut.
Officials in Daun Penh district, however, said the Water Festival would not lead to an increase in brothel closures.
“We just want to eliminate brothels 100 percent out of Daun Penh district because it destroys public order,” said Deputy District Governor Pich Socheata.
Almost 40 sex workers, including five rounded up during a Nov 5 raid, have been sent to the Municipal Social Affairs Department since Daun Penh authorities began to crack down on brothels in May 2008, Pich Socheata said by phone.
Both Sum Rithy and Pich Socheata complained that brothels, once closed, are often turned into coffee shops or karaoke bars where sex workers continue to provide services in secret.
The repeated closures of brothels violates the labor rights of sex workers and could increase joblessness and homelessness among them, said Nay Heng, president of Women Network Unity, a sex worker advocacy group.
“Most of them are willing to work this job because they don’t have another choice due to being uneducated and lack of work skills.”