Rescued VN Sex Workers To Be Deported Get Jail Sentences

Ten sex workers and four alleged brothel employees were sentenced to jail terms Monday in Phnom Penh Municipal Court, officials said. All 14 women were convicted of illegal immigration and will be deported to Vietnam after completing their sentences.

Four other sex workers were ac­quitted of illegal immigration charges after testifying that they either were born in Cambodia or had lived here for more than seven years. The 14 prostitutes, the youngest of whom said she was 13, were rescued by police in a series of raids in Phnom Penh’s Svay Pak red-light district in May.

They were handed over to the NGO Afesip, but were arrested  June 20 on immigration charges. Three of them remained at Afesip instead of being de­tained in jail because they told Phnom Penh investigating Judge Buning Bunnary they were under 18.

The arrests were widely criticized by human rights groups and observers for shifting the focus from the perpetrators of sex trafficking to the victims. Seven of the sex workers received two-month sentences because, ac­cording to Judge Nop Sophon, they entered Cambodia before they were 18 years old. The remaining three sex workers and four alleged employees of the brothel—cooks and cleaners—were given three-month sentences because they entered the country after they were 18.

The ages of the sex workers have also been at issue since they were rescued as a result of a joint NGO and Min­istry of Interior investigation. Only three of the young wo­men told the court Monday they were under 18, but records of in­terviews with the girls conducted by Afesip reveal that seven of the girls said they were under 18. “The trial is fair based on the grounds of the immigration act,” said Soeung Kamaryan, legal counselor for Afesip. But she said she will de­mand that the judge reconsider the trial, “be­cause the girls were victims of human trafficking.”

Pierre Legros, an adviser to Afesip, said he hoped that Afesip’s shelter in Vietnam would be allowed to handle the resettlement of the girls and is try­ing to iron out the specifics with Viet­namese authorities.

Minister of Women’s Affairs Mu Sochua said she was “ex­tremely frustrated and disappointed” with Monday’s verdict.

“Victims of trafficking, no matter what age, sex or ethnic background, must be considered victims,” she said. “The sentences are short, but it [sends a message] that they have committed a crime.”


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