By Soy Sophea
Cambodian sex workers held a protest on May 4 to draw attention to the Cambodian Government’s implementation of laws covered by the “Suppression of Human Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation Act”. These laws came into effect in March 2008.
The protest took place in a conference room at an office of the Women’s Network for Unity in Phnom Penh. About 200 sex workers were involved in the action. Many of them had tales to tell of physical and sexual abuse whilst in custody.
Phally, a sex worker, said during the protest, “Setting aside other questions of morality for the moment, we are treated like violent criminals by authorities; but whatever else we are, we are certainly not violent people.”
Pich Sochea, another sex worker, said that the laws appear designed to persecute them and their families, rather than offer them a degree of protection as they undertake work in what is commonly referred to as the oldest ‘profession’ in the world. She called on authorities to amend the law so as to support, educate and guide the individual towards more socially acceptable means of employment, if such is desired. At the moment, laws covered by the “Suppression of Human Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation Act” tended to focus on getting the individual off the street and into custody as soon as possible, with little thought given to the often dire circumstances that brought the individual to the trade in the first instance.
Lawmaker Khieu San, has responded to these comments in a manner that suggests a National Assembly approach guided by clear-sighted pragmatism. Whilst not encouraging the industry, he recognized its existence in Cambodia; and again, he noted that in this case, punishing the criminal would never be as effective as attempting to rehabilitate the individual.