July 20, 2010

III. Sex Work in Cambodia

Numbers and Origins

Exchanging sex for money has gone on for decades in Cambodia. In the repressive Khmer Rouge period from 1975-1979, the Khmer Rouge practically eliminated sex work. At that time, the Khmer Rouge was attempting by force to create an agrarian society—killing elites, intellectuals, and anyone suspected of free market activities. Some 1.5 million Cambodians were murdered. Any acts deemed immoral (khos sel’thor) including prostitution, premarital sex, sex between same sex couples, and adultery were punishable by death.

During the People’s Republic of Kampuchea period (1979-1989), when Cambodia was occupied by Vietnamese troops, sex work was strictly controlled. The authorities routinely arrested and detained sex workers, sending them to the former Khmer Rouge detention facility on Koh Kor island in Koh Kor village, Kandal province. Since 1981, the facility has been administered by the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans, and Youth Rehabilitation (MOSAVY). As recently as 2008, the ministry was using the facility to detain sex workers (see subheading “Abuses at Government Social Affairs Centers” under section IV).

With the arrival of tens of thousands of peacekeeping personnel in 1992 as part of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), sex work became more visible, with red light districts opening in different parts of Phnom Penh and the provinces, and demand for sexual services from both local and foreign men. The clients of sex workers in Cambodia are primarily Cambodian men.

Sex workers working in brothels are generally referred to as “direct” sex workers in Cambodia. A brothel is usually a small house employing 1-20 sex workers. It is often run by a manager, also known as a madam (if female). Some sex workers are employed directly by the manager while others simply rent a room in a brothel to conduct sex work. Many brothels have a sign saying “massage and/or coining.”[4]

“Indirect” sex workers work in massage parlors (which offer both regular and sexual massage services), karaoke bars, bars, restaurants, and nightclubs. These venues usually employ women who may be taken off the premises by customers for a fee. Sex usually takes place somewhere else, often in a hotel. In rural areas, karaoke bars are often façades for brothels and they may have rooms at the back of the business, functioning similarly to a brothel. Sex workers also work in the street or public parks, either independently or sometimes for a manager. Hostesses, masseuses, or beer promoters[5] may also engage in sex work from time to time.[6]

There are no exact figures on the number of sex workers in Cambodia. Making such estimates is difficult, especially since many aspects of sex work are illegal. Some figures have gained credence through continued use though the methodology by which they were obtained has never been clarified.[7] An academic study by Thomas Steinfatt funded by USAID in 2003—one of the few studies using statistical estimations based on actual counts—concluded there are about 20,829 direct and indirect female sex workers in Cambodia, with 5,250 in Phnom Penh.[8] Of this number, the majority are over 18 years of age.[9] A 2006 report by the Ministry of Health says there are 6,000 direct female sex workers and 26,000 indirect female sex workers.[10] Many sex workers are ethnic Vietnamese.[11] In addition, there are male-to-female transgender sex workers and male sex workers, but exact figures are not available.

While some women enter sex work voluntarily, others are trafficked or coerced. Steinfatt estimates that of a sample of 20,829 female sex workers, 2,488 women and children are trafficked for sex work in Cambodia, or approximately 12 percent. This is similar to a 2006 study conducted by White, Sidedine, and Mealea amongst 250 brothel based sex workers (all female), which found that 14 percent were trafficked, whereas 86 percent chose sex work on their own.[12]

People engage in sex work for a variety of reasons that are not unique to Cambodia. One primary reason is economic. Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in South East Asia, ranking 87 among 135 countries on the UN’s Human Poverty Index, well below Burma at 77.[13] In Cambodia, 40 percent of the population earns less than $1.25 a day.[14]The net enrollment ratio for girls in secondary school is 28 out of every 100 girls of secondary school age. In the current economic climate, women face even more limited employment opportunities and sex work may seem an attractive economic option.

According to a 2004 Asia Development Bank report, “gender inequalities are endemic in Cambodia’s labor markets. Traditional attitudes towards girls’ education and ‘appropriate’ occupations for women and men have shaped existing inequalities and continue to perpetuate disparities in employment.”[15]The report confirms that most employed women in Cambodia work in the garment or informal sector.[16]While a textile and garment factory worker will earn between $45 to $80[17]per month, a sex worker can earn a monthly income ranging from $90 to $160.[18]Among those interviewed by Human Rights Watch, many entered sex work as a result of economic pressures (often arising from health problems of family members or landlessness) and a lack of other opportunities for education and employment.

A number of women who were initially trafficked into sex work escaped that exploitative situation, and then continue to engage in sex work voluntarily. Some of these women are now active members of the sex workers rights movement in Cambodia. Stigma and discrimination against sex workers in Cambodian society, combined with a lack of viable economic alternatives, means sex workers and victims of trafficking often feel they have few options but to continue this work. As Makara, age 22, told Human Rights Watch:

I was sold to a brothel in Phnom Penh for $500 in 2001 [when she was age 14]. When I left the brothel I did not see myself fit for any other alternative job. My family is so poor that I could not depend on them, so I became a prostitute since then. The money I earn from sex work is to feed myself, my child and my husband who is a junk scavenger.[19]

None of the transgender women interviewed by Human Rights Watch had been trafficked. But all of them described a combination of poverty and discrimination on the basis of their gender identity and gender expression as a reason for entering sex work. As Srey Keo told Human Rights Watch:

I left home due to discrimination against me by my parents because of my transgender nature. I became a sex worker after I left home and followed my friends to earn my living through sex.[20]


Civil Society Involvement with Sex Workers

In Cambodia, a large number of nongovernmental organizations work on issues affecting women and children. Some of these organizations focus on assisting victims of trafficking and other forms of violence against women, some focus on specifically children or women’s rights, and a few focus specifically on supporting the rights of sex workers. NGOs providing shelter services to victims of violence play a vital role in providing much-needed services, particularly in a country like Cambodia, where government services are inadequate or virtually non-existent. NGO-run shelters have made a positive contribution by helping victims of abuses overcome trauma and learn new skills, and by assisting police and courts to prosecute traffickers and abusers.

However, there are questions over whether NGOs always respect the human rights of those they are seeking to protect. For instance, some NGO shelters have had long-standing policies (until recently) which forced trafficking victims and sex workers to stay in shelters against their will.

In addition to NGOs that focus on trafficking and protecting women from violence, since 1998 several membership organizations have been set up by and for sex workers, initially with support from other NGOs. These organizations play a vital role in representing the interests of sex workers, providing advice and support to their members, HIV outreach, and advocating on behalf of sex workers with the government, other NGOs, and multilateral institutions. The largest, Women’s Network for Unity, was formed in 2000 and has at least 5,000 members in 13 provinces in Cambodia. Others include the Cambodian Prostitutes Union and the Network Men Women Development Cambodia (CNMWD) which focuses on transgender sex workers.


Sex Work under Current Cambodian Law

Article 46 of the 1993 Cambodian Constitution states, “The commerce of human beings, exploitation by prostitution and obscenity which affects the reputation of women shall be prohibited.” Currently, many acts connected to sex work are illegal in Cambodia under a law passed in 2008 covering trafficking and sex work. For instance, soliciting and any acts by third parties assisting in the prostitution of others are crimes.

Until recently, Cambodia’s legal framework was based largely on the law drafted by the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC).[21]The 1992 UNTAC law criminalized third party involvement in child prostitution, but had no provision criminalizing any aspect of adult sex work.[22]

The UNTAC law was supplemented by additional laws in 1996 and 2008 that criminalized additional aspects of sex work.The Law on the Suppression of Kidnapping, Trafficking and Exploitation of Human Beings adopted in 1996 in addition to criminalizing trafficking of women and children for prostitution, also criminalized third party involvement in prostitution, such as pimping and debauchery—establishing “a place to commit debauchery or obscene acts.”[23] These two offenses in the 1996 law provided a legal basis for police to raid brothels or other entertainment establishments where sex work was likely taking place. Debauchery is not defined in the law and the offense is not revised in the 2008 law. In October 2008, the UNTAC law was replaced by the new Penal Code.[24]

In February 2008, the Cambodian government adopted the Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation, which had the effect of repealing the 1996 law.[25] On sex work, it criminalized third party involvement in sex work, child prostitution, and soliciting.

According to its drafters, this law aimed to bring Cambodia in line with several treaties, namely the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, which was ratified by Cambodia in May 2002, and also the Palermo Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons (hereafter Palermo Protocol), which Cambodia ratified in 2006.

In the foreword to the 2008 law, the minister of justice stated that the new law was needed since the 1996 law “had a lot of gaps” and was not effectively enforced.[26] The Ministry of Justice in collaboration with the Japanese Institute for Legal Development and with financial support from UNICEF Cambodia, re-drafted the new Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation.[27]

The 2008 law adopts the Palermo Protocol’s definition of trafficking, giving law enforcement officials additional grounds to arrest and convict traffickers. The 2008 law breaks down the individual elements of the act of trafficking in the Palermo Protocol, making each wrongful element a crime such as unlawful removal,[28] unlawful removal of a minor,[29] unlawful removal “with purpose,”[30] the act of buying, selling or exchanging a human being,[31] transportation with purpose,[32] cross-border transportation,[33] abduction, detention or confinement.[34] It is therefore up to police, prosecutors and judges to determine the most appropriate offenses with which to charge traffickers.[35]

The 2008 law also covers offences relating to prostitution and child prostitution.[36]Prostitution is defined as having sexual intercourse with an unspecified person or other sexual conduct of all kinds in exchange for anything of value.[37] Child prostitution is defined as the offence of having sexual intercourse or other sexual conduct of all kinds between a minor—under 18 years of age—and another person in exchange for anything of value.[38] The provisions on sex work and child prostitution expand the scope of the criminal acts covered under the 1996 law. Under the 1996 law, pimping and debauchery were criminal offenses, with stricter penalties for debauchery involving a child under the age of 15. New offenses in the 2008 law include obscenity, pornography, purchasing child sex, providing premises for prostitution, and procuring prostitution.[39]

The 2008 law does not criminalize clients of adult sex workers. However, it does call for the punishment of anyone who engages in child prostitution, including clients, but not the child.[40]

The 2008 law criminalizes adult sex workers who solicit in public. Under article 24, a person who willingly and publicly solicits another for the purpose of prostituting himself or herself shall be punished with imprisonment for 1 to 6 days and a fine of 3,000 to 10,000 riel (about $0.75 to $2.50). The law exempts children under the age of 18 from being charged with soliciting.

The 2008 law also criminalizes procurement for prostitution, which is generally considered to be facilitating or providing a person for sexual services. Article 25 defines the act of procuring as follows: drawing a financial profit from the prostitution of others; assisting or protecting the prostitution of others; recruiting, inducing or training a person with a view to practice prostitution; or exercising pressure upon a person to become a prostitute.

Article 25 defines procurement in such a broad way so that it includes not only receiving financial profit from prostitution but also any activity “assisting or protecting the prostitution of others.”[41]What this means is that anyone deemed to be assisting prostitution, such as a moto taxi driver or a sex workers’ outreach worker distributing condoms could be liable for prosecution. The broad scope of this provision risks criminalizing the legitimate exercise of fundamental rights, such as advocacy on the part of sex workers.

In addition, article 25 (3) defines procurement as including any act that might be construed as “hindering the act of prevention, assistance or reeducation undertaken either by a public agency or by a competent private organization for the benefit of persons engaging in prostitution or being in danger of prostitution.”[42] The overly-broad scope of the offence of procurement means that peer educators, or family and friends of sex workers who try to intervene in police raids are potentially liable for punishment. Human Rights Watch heard reports from some NGOs that police are using this provision as an excuse to threaten and obstruct efforts by outreach workers.[43] This provision is so vague in its potential application that it violates the principles of legal certainty and foreseeability, which require that criminal laws be sufficiently narrowly and precisely drawn to target specific behavior. This is what required by article 15 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which requires that all crimes be adequately detailed in law.[44]

Throughout 2008 HIV/AIDS activists, health workers, and sex worker groups voiced concerns about increased abuses by authorities, and their difficulty in accessing sex workers—many of whom were driven underground because they feared arrest. Raids and brothel closures meant many sex workers moved from working in brothels to working on the streets or in entertainment venues such as bars, karaoke, or massage parlors. This makes it more difficult for outreach workers to contact sex workers.

In Phnom Penh, Family Health International, an international NGO focused on public health and development that works in Cambodia reported that their ability to conduct outreach amongst brothel-based sex workers dropped from 96 percent in October-December 2007, to 84 percent from January-March 2008, and amongst “freelance” sex workers from 90 percent to 80 percent.[45]They also noted a small increase in the number of “freelance” sex workers over the same period.[46] Some sex workers told Human Rights Watch that they stopped carrying condoms “as anyone found with them were subjected to be arrested.”[47]

Guidelines and Explanatory Notes to Interpret 2008 Law

In an effort to alleviate some of the concerns raised by civil society groups about increased abuses against sex workers by various authorities, in November 2008, the Inter-ministerial Task Force to Fight Human Trafficking, Smuggling, Exploitation and Sexual Exploitation of Women and Children issued the “Guidelines on the Implementation of the Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation.” While the guidelines are potentially a useful tool in operationalizing the law for authorities at all levels, they have no legal force. And as of April 2010, it seemed that many government officials, police, and even some NGOs were not aware of the existence of the guidelines.

The guidelines clearly state that the rights of victims of trafficking and sex workers are to be respected. Sex workers are regarded as “victims of procurement for prostitution. Prostitution is not a crime; thus individual prostitutes are not punished as offenders under the new legislation.”

The guidelines state that raids are only to be carried out after preliminary investigations have been conducted and evidence collected, and that search and seizure of evidence should be conducted in adherence with the guidelines. Any property seized belonging to victims of trafficking or sex workers must be returned to them.

The guidelines also stipulate that actions by the authorities should only be undertaken in the following instances: “where there is a complaint from people in the neighborhood about prostitution activities, a complaint from a victim that has been forced into prostitution, if there is child prostitution and if prostitution leads to public disorder and insecurity.”[48]

The guidelines also cover treatment of trafficked victims and sex workers, stating that they should be interviewed without delay or detention. Children are to be sent to the MOSAVY office while adults are only to be sent to that office if they consent, otherwise “they are free to return to their homes.”

Going beyond the guidelines, the Ministry of Justice, with support from UNICEF, is currently drafting explanatory notes on each article of the law in order to aid interpretation and implementation. For instance, the explanatory notes provide details on what is and is not considered soliciting under Article 24 of the law, and more guidance regarding procurement under Article 25 (3). However, given that the explanatory notes are not legally enforceable, they are unlikely to provide sufficient protection regarding these provisions in the law.

A Long History of Crackdowns against Sex Workers

Police arrests, harassment, and abuses against sex workers in Cambodia have taken place for decades. In many instances these crackdowns are undertaken by local authorities, but they have also been ordered by the highest levels of the Cambodian government. Such crackdowns have been routinely criticized by local and international human rights and HIV/AIDS organizations.[49]

According to media sources, in 1994, a year after the UN-backed general elections, police arrested an unknown number of sex workers and fined hundreds of brothel owners in a crackdown against sex work in Phnom Penh. The brothel owners were never prosecuted or permanently closed down. The Phnom Penh anti-prostitution unit of the police explained that they had been instructed to arrest all sex workers, “educate” them, and release them within 48 hours. The chief of the unit told the media, “I think it has not been a 100 percent success, but at least our police stopped prostitutes sitting or roving on [red light district] Toul Kork streets, damaging the capital's beauty and culture. And some prostitutes realized that to be a prostitute is not good.”[50]

In November 1997, police launched another crackdown on brothels, rounding up more than 500 sex workers by January 1998. Sex workers and NGOs supporting women and children reported police brutality against sex workers during the crackdown.[51]

On several occasions directives to close down red-light districts have been issued by the prime minister himself. In late 2001, for example, Hun Sen personally issued a decree ordering the closure of brothels following a spate of late-night shootings in the capital. The US State Department noted in its 2002 report on human rights practices in Cambodia: “In December [2001] the Government began a general crackdown on prostitution, which has made prostitutes even more vulnerable to intimidation, violence, theft, rape, and disease.”[52]

A more recent wave of brothel closures occurred in late 2007, after the Ministry of Interior launched a campaign against trafficking, smuggling, exploitation and sex work in July.[53] The plan empowered judicial and anti-trafficking police at the municipal and provincial levels to take various measures against entertainment venues to prevent trafficking and sex work. As part of the campaign, police in Battambang and Banteay Meanchey closed down notorious brothel areas in both provinces in late 2007 and early 2008. In Banteay Meanchey the crackdown kicked off on January 17, 2008, when more than five truck loads of policemen descended on red light districts. They arrested sex workers and brothel owners and ordered the closure of all brothels in Sereysophorn and in Monkulborei districts. The sex workers were detained for up to two days for questioning and then allowed to go back to their home villages or to NGO-run shelters, after first being warned they would be arrested if they returned to the red light districts.[54]

Abuses against sex workers drew media attention in early 2008, after passage of a new law against trafficking and sexual exploitation spurred protests by sex worker advocacy groups. Conflation of trafficking and sex work, and an eagerness to please US officials and funders led to a wave of arrests and brothel raids, with Maj. Gen. Bith Kimhong, director of the Ministry of Interior’s anti-trafficking department stating in December 2008:

The raids on brothels and street walkers proved a commitment by the government to end sex trafficking …The new law is one of several moves by the Cambodian government over the past year to show that it is cracking down on sexual exploitation.[55]
Kimhong dismissed reports that the law’s passage had led to any abuses because he said he had not received any complaints from victims.[56]However, even the US government recognized that the raids did not have the effect of identifying and assisting victims of trafficking.[57]

In 2009, police and local authorities continued the arrests of sex workers working on the streets and in public parks during sporadic nighttime sweeps and round-ups. In Phnom Penh, these sweeps occur especially in the streets and parks around Wat Phnom, Old Market (Phsa Chas) inDaun Penh district, Independence Monument (or Vimean Ekareach), in Chamkar Mon district, Toul Kork district, 7 Makara district, and Russey Keo district.

Sweep and roundups are cyclical events intensifying at the time of major events in the city, such as public holidays, diplomatic visits, or high-profile international events. Sex workers are rounded up, held for a few days at the municipal Social Affairs office and then often released after such events pass. Sex workers may be caught up in broader street sweeps affecting the homeless, street children, beggars and people who use drugs as well.

Some of the arrests occur with no legal basis whatsoever. Several sex workers told Human Rights Watch how police arrested them simply in order to rob or extort money from them, rape them or to get them to clean the toilet or the office in the police station.

Street sweeps of Phnom Penh parks and streets are carried out on grounds of maintaining public order and security, on the orders of the district chief, the municipal or provincial governor, or the Ministry of Interior.[58] These sweeps are conducted by district police officers, rather than by anti-trafficking police.

A letter from the Ministry of Interior to the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) in September 2008 stated that sweeps are carried out in the name of public order:

Sex workers create public disorder and damage the dignity and morality of the Cambodian society. Some sex workers trickily attract pedestrians and take their property. Under the direction of Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuk Tema and to comply with the principal of Phnom Penh Municipality Special Taskforce, therefore Daun Penh district authorities found and collected sex workers, homeless people, beggars and drug users who always sleep in the gardens, roads and yards, affecting social security and public order…It is a role and task of Daun Penh district office to maintain public order by collecting sex workers, homeless people, beggars and drug users.[59]

This view was confirmed in a government comment in August 2009 to an OHCHR report:

Phnom Penh Municipal Police have begun to round up prostitutes, beggars, street children, glue sniffers/drug addicts, disabled persons, and other vagrants with the purpose … to beautify the city so as to attract national and international tourists to visit and enjoy Phnom Penh, and to keep public order, which is part of economic development through the promotion of tourism; and the street vagrants are also human resources for the agricultural sector, and they should be encouraged and pushed to return home to their provinces or municipalities to do their farming.[60]

Mann Chhoeun, former deputy governor of Phnom Penh Municipality, told journalists during a July 2009 crackdown that homeless people and sex workers tarnish Phnom Penh’s image.[61]Another official, Daun Penh district deputy governor, Sok Penhvuth, told the Phnom Penh Post that every district in the capital had received orders to round up street people at that time, with sweeps taking place about twice a week. “Daun Penh district is the tourist, political and economic heart of the city,” he said. “In order to keep the city clean…we have to take action until there are no more street people.[62]

In May 2009, police detained sex workers, people who use drugs and others in Daun Penh district in a “street clearing campaign” ahead of the ASEAN-European Union Ministerial Meeting in Phnom Penh. Sok Sambath, Daun Penh district governor cited a need to install “complete social order” ahead of the ASEAN-European Union Ministerial Meeting in Phnom Penh, saying that the authorities will continue clearing the streets of sex workers and suspected drug users, “We must respond to the [municipal] desire to bring about social order,” he said of the operation. “We will continue to sweep the drug users and sex workers that line the streets and the river bank at night.[63]

For months in 2009, driven by local government orders, authorities intensified sweeps at the public park and streets near Wat Phnom in central Daun Penh district. For instance, according to a Daun Penh district official, on November 23, 2009 mixed forces[64] from Daun Penh district carried out a sweep under the direct orders of the Phnom Penh Municipal governor and Daun Penh district governor.[65]The official told the press, “The goal is to stop the anarchic situation created by sex workers soliciting clients, which harms Cambodia’s national traditions and creates social and public disorder.”[66]

Municipal authorities have also publicly stated that sex workers in particular are singled out for arrest and detention in order to prevent the spread of HIV. For instance, according to media reports, police arrested 17 sex workers in the lead up to the November 2009 water festival in Phnom Penh (which involves thousands of people travelling from rural areas to Phnom Penh to watch and participate in boat races). Rationalizing the sweeps, Sok Penhvuth, deputy governor of Daun Penh district told journalists, “We don’t want to see the boat racers bring diseases such as HIV/AIDS back to their wives. We want to protect the men in case they get caught up in the festivities and forget about health and safety.”[67]

On March 4, 2010, Prime Minister Hun Sen once again called for police to step up their activities against trafficking and gambling, saying “I would like that the year 2010 is the year to take measures to fight against human trafficking and all forms of illegal gambling.”[68] He also directly addressed allegations of misconduct by senior officials in their efforts against trafficking and gambling stating, “I am regretful of the misconduct of some leaders who have interfered with the court and law enforcement officials… The culture of impunity is not acceptable.” However he failed to address abuses by rank and file police. As a result of Hun Sen’s call, police arrested and detained many sex workers, sending them to the municipal Social Affairs office and then to various NGOs.

[4]Coining is an alternative medicine treatment common in Southeast Asia like massage, which consists of rubbing heated oil on the skin, most commonly the chest, back, or shoulders, and then vigorously rubbing a coin over the area.

[5]In Cambodia, beer promoters, commonly known as “beer promotion girls” are employed by beer companies to serve beer in karaoke venues, restaurants and bars.

[6]UNESCO (Bangkok), Jan W.de Lind van Wijgaarden, “The organization of sex work in contemporary Cambodia: Implications for HIV prevention and care,” 2002, (accessed April 11, 2010). Sex work in Cambodia organizes in different ways: brothel based sex workers, Karaoke-based sex workers, street walkers, Free-lance – ‘opportunistic’ sex workers, direct, and indirect sex workers.

[7]Steinfatt, T. “Measuring the number of Trafficked Women and Children in Cambodia: A Direct Observation Field Study,” sponsored by USAID, Phnom Penh, October 6, 2003, p.2. http://slate.msn.com/Features/pdf/Trfciiif.pdf (accessed April 11, 2010). This study refers to the frequently quoted figure of 80,000 – 100,000 sex workers in Cambodia in various NGO reports as questionable because of a lack of information about how this number was calculated.

[8]Ibid., p.25.

[9]Ibid., the study notes that of a sample of 5,317 sex workers, 198 were below the age of 18 or 3.4 percent.

[10]Ministry of Health, Cambodian National Center for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Report of a Consensus Workshop, “HIV Estimates and Projections for Cambodia 2006 -2012,” June 25-29, 2007, http://data.unaids.org/pub/Report/2008/Cambodia_hiv_estimation_report_2006_en.pdf (accessed April 11, 2010).

[11]Steinfatt, “Measuring the number of Trafficked Women and Children in Cambodia: A Direct Observation Field Study,” October 6, 2003.

[12]Joanna White, Lim Sidedine, and Ke Kantha Mealea, The Situation of Female Sex Workers and Entertainment Workers in Cambodia: Findings of a Quantitative Study, (Phnom Penh: Center for Advanced Study), 2006.

[13]UNDP, “Human Development Report 2009: Cambodia,” 2009, http://hdrstats.undp.org/en/countries/country_fact_sheets/cty_fs_KHM.html (accessed June 16, 2010).

[14]UNDP, “Human Development Report 2009,” http://hdr.undp.org/en/media/HDR_2009_EN_Complete.pdf, (accessed July 7, 2010).

[15]UNIFEM, the World Bank, ADB, UNDP and DFID/UK, in cooperation with the Cambodian Ministry of Women’s and Veterans’ Affairs, “A Fair Share for Women: Cambodia Gender Assessment,” April 2004, p.6., http://www.adb.org/Documents/Reports/Country-Gender-Assessments/cga-cam.pdf (accessed April 11, 2010).


[17]Cambodia Institute of Development Study, “Living Wage Survey for Cambodia’s Garment Industry,” February 2009, http://www.fes.or.id/fes/download/Survey_Result_Cambodia.pdf (accessed April 11, 2010).

[18]Cambodian Alliance for Combating HIV AIDS, results of action research entitled “Policies Environment regarding Universal Access and the right to work of entertainment workers/sex workers,” released in July 2009; p. 9.

[19]Human Rights Watch interview with Makara, 22, Phnom Penh, August 6, 2009.

[20]Human Rights Watch interview with Srey Keo, Phnom Penh, November 6, 2009.

[21]UNTAC was established in Cambodia in 1992 to ensure implementation of the Agreements on a Comprehensive Political Settlement of the Cambodia Conflict, signed in Paris on 23 October 1991. Amongst other issues, UNTAC’s mandate included responsibility for human rights and the maintenance of law and order.

[22]Article 42 (3) UNTAC law states Any person who procures, entices or leads away, for purposes of prostitution, or sexually exploits a minor, even with the consent of that minor, shall be liable to a term of imprisonment of two to six years.

[23]Kingdom of Cambodia, Royal Degree No. 0296/01, The Law on the Suppression of Kidnapping, Trafficking and Exploitation of Human Beings, Adopted by the National Assembly on January 16, 1996; Law on the Suppression of the Kidnapping and Trafficking of Human Persons and Exploitation of Human Persons 1996, art. 4. A pimp is anyone who supports or protects the prostitution of others with knowledge before the assistance or support of the prostitution; who regularly shares in the proceeds derived from prostitution; who solicits clients for him/her or them for the purpose of prostitution; in whatever form; or trains or coaxes, by whatever means, a male or female to engage in prostitution or acts as a middleman, in whatever form, establishing contacts between male/female prostitutes and the brothel-keeper or the provider of profit for the prostitution of other persons; or allows a make or females to live at his/her house or any other place for the purpose of engaging him/her in prostitution for his/her profit; Law on the Suppression of the Kidnapping and Trafficking of Human Persons and Exploitation of Human Persons 1996, article 7, states, “Any person who opens a place for committing debauchery or obscene acts shall be punished by imprisonment from one (1) to five (5) years and by a fine of five million (5,000,000) riel to thirty million (30,000,000) riel. In the case of repeated offenses, the above punishment terms shall be doubled.”Article 8 states “Any person who commits acts of debauchery involving a minor below 15 years old, even if there is consent from the concerned minor, or even if the person has bought such minor from someone else or from a pimp, shall be punished by ten (10) to twenty (20) years in prison. In case of repeat offenses, the maximum punishment term shall be applied. And the court may, in addition to the above principal punishment, apply a sub-punishment by restriction of civil rights and by the non-authorization of residence.”


[25]Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation, The Kingdom of Cambodia, No. 140 c.l., February 15, 2008, art. 50. states that the Law on Suppression of the Kidnapping and Trafficking of Human Persons and Exploitation of Human Persons, which was promulgated by Royal Kram No:cs/rkm/0296/01 shall be repealed by this law. This law shall prevail if a provision of any other law is in contradiction with the provisions of this law. (“Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation 2008”).

[26] Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation 2008, foreword by His Excellency Ang Vongvathana, Minister of Justice, Phnom Penh, February 27, 2008.


[28]Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation 2008, art. 8 defines unlawful removal as 1) to remove a person from his/her current place of residence to a place under the actor’s or third person’s control by means of force, threat, deception, abuse of power, or enticement, or 2) without legal authorities or any other justification to do so, take a minor or a person under general custody or curatorship or legal custody away from the legal custody of the parents, caretaker or guardian.

[29]Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation 2008, art. 9 defines unlawful removal of a minor as removing, “a minor or a person under general custody or curatorship or legal custody.”

[30]Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation 2008, art. 10 defines unlawful removal with purpose as doing so for the purpose of profit making, sexual aggression, production of pornography, marriage against the will of the victim, adoption or any type of exploitation. The terms “any form of exploitation” includes the exploitation of the “prostitution of others, pornography, commercial sex act, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, debt bondage, involuntary servitude, child labor or the removal of organs.”

[31]Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation 2008, art. 13 defines the act of selling, buying or exchanging a human being as unlawfully delivering the control over a person to another, or to unlawfully receive the control over a person from another, in exchange for anything of value including any services and human beings.

[32]Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation 2008, art. 17 defines transportation with purpose as transporting another person knowing that he or she has been unlawfully removed, recruited, sold, bought, exchanged or transported for the purpose of profit making, sexual aggression, production of pornography, marriage against will of the victim, adoption, or any form of exploitation.

[33]Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation 2008, art. 18 defines cross-border transportation as a person who transports (brings) another person to outside of the Kingdom of Cambodia knowing that he or she has been unlawfully removed, recruited, sold, bought, exchanged or transported.

[34]Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation 2008, art. 21 defines abduction (arrest), detention or confinement, as a person, who without legal authority, arrests, detains or confines another person.

[35]Article 3 of the Palermo Protocol defines trafficking in persons as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.” Consent to the intended exploitation is irrelevant where any of the means such as deception, coercion etc. are used. When it comes to children, however, it is irrelevant whether there was any form of coercion or deception used, and simply the recruitment or movement of a child into a situation of exploitation is enough to constitute trafficking.

[36]Chapter IV of the Act, Articles 23 – 37 set out the various offences proscribed under this heading.

[37]Article 23.

[38]Penal Code, art. 23.

[39]Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation 2008, see arts. 23-41.

[40]Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation 2008, art. 23.

[41]Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation 2008, art. 25 states “the act of procuring prostitution shall mean 1) drawing a financial profit from the prostitution of others, 2) assisting or protecting the prostitution of others, 3) recruiting, including or training a person with a view to practice prostitution, 4) exercising pressure upon a person to become a prostitute. The following acts shall be deemed equivalent to the act of procuring prostitution: 1) serving as an intermediary between one person who engages in prostitution and a person who exploits or remunerates the prostitution of others; 2) facilitating or covering up resources knowing that such resources were obtained from a procurement; 3) hindering the act of prevention, assistance or re-education undertaken either by a public agency or by a competent private organization for the benefit of persons engaging in prostitution or being in danger of prostitution.”

[42]Penal Code, art. 25 (3). According to article 25, this offence is deemed the equivalent to the act of procurement of prostitution and shall be punished, pursuant to article 26, by imprisonment for 2 to 5 years.

[43]Human Rights Watch interview with LICADHO, July 21, 2009; CPU on July 23 2009; CNMWD on July 25 2009, Phnom Penh.

[44]ICCPR, art.15 and see Manfred Nowak, UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: CCPR Commentary, 2nd rev. ed,. (Kehl am Rhein: Engel, 2005), p.361.

[45]Family Health International, “Trafficking law and its effect to ESWs,” Entertainment Service Worker and Client Program,

April 22, 2008.

[46]The report by FHI does not define “freelance,” but in this context it is likely to mean those who do not work in brothels.

[47]Sou Sotheavy, director of Network Men Women Development Cambodia, Phnom Penh, July 25, 2009.

[48]Guidelines on the Implementation of the Law on Suppression on Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation, Unofficial translation by UNIAP.

[49]Reports of other crackdowns on sex workers since 1994 include: Indochina Digest, August 9, 1995; Thomas Hammarberg, “Report to UN General Assembly,” September 17, 1998; Chris Seper, "Police Sweeps Help Clean Up Child Prostitution," Christian Science Monitor, January 8, 1998; Debra Boyce, “Together, Sex Workers Speak With Louder Voice,” Inter Press Service, June 17, 1999; Cambodian Prostitutes Union and Cambodian Women’s Development Association, “Survey on Police Human Rights Violation of Sex Workers in Toul Kork,” August/September 2002; Kathy Marks, “Cambodian police close dozens of child-sex brothels,” The Independent, January 25, 2003; “Police shut massage parlour in latest crackdown,” June 26, 2005, (accessed June 2, 2010).

[49]US State Department, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, “Cambodia Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2001,” March 4, 2002.

[50]Mang Channo, “Moves afoot to legalise prostitution,” Phnom Penh Post, January 27, 1995.

[51]Chris Seper, “Police Sweeps Help Clean Up Child Prostitution: Cambodia allows sex trade, but now takes aim at those forcing girls into the practice,” Christian Science Monitor,January 8, 1998.

[52]US State Department, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, “Cambodia Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2001,” March 4, 2002.

[53]“Campaigning Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, Smuggling, Exploitation, and Women and Children Sexual Exploitation,” Ministry of Interior, Royal Government of Cambodia, No. 012 Ph.K, signed in Phnom Penh, July 17, 2007.

[54]Human Rights Watch interviews with seven freelance sex workers and karaoke girls in Battambang provincial town, July 30, 2009; Human Rights Watch interviews with staff from Adhoc and Cambodian Women Association for Peace and Development, Battambang, July 29, 2009.

[55]“Cambodia faces problems enforced new sex trafficking law,” Agence France-Presse, December 25, 2008.


[57]The United States Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report 2009 - Cambodia, June 16, 2009, notes that with regard to Cambodia:

Because the new law covers a wide range of offenses, not all government officials have appeared to distinguish between the law’s articles on trafficking offenses and non-trafficking crimes such as prostitution, pornography, and child sex abuse. As a result, law enforcement has focused on prostitution-related crimes, and many police, courts, and other government officials appear to believe that enforcing all prostitution articles of the law contributes to efforts to combat trafficking.

Following the passage of the law, Cambodian police conducted numerous raids on brothels, and detained a large number of women in prostitution, while failing to arrest, investigate or charge any large number of persons for human trafficking offenses. Moreover, the detained females in prostitution may have included some trafficking victims, though police made few attempts to identify, assist, or protect them.
http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/4a4214c82d.html, (accessed June 16, 2010).

[58]The chief or governor leads a so-called “special taskforce” (K’nak Banh’chea ka Ek’pheap) dealing with public order and security in their territory.

[59]Letter, no. 1219 sor.chor.nor, September 25, 2008 to LICADHO. regarding the results of the government investigation into reported abuses committed at MOSAVY rehabilitation centers.

[60]Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Cambodia Country Office With comments by the Royal Government of Cambodia, “Annual Report 2008-9,” Report January 2008-June 2009, para 29, page 44.

[61]Yun Samean and Bethany Lindsay, “Rights Group Accuses Gov’t of Punishing Phnom Penh’s Poor,” Cambodia Daily, July 27, 2009.

[62]Vong Sokheng and Sebastian Strangio, “Detentions decried as ‘appalling’,” Phnom Penh Post, July 27, 2009.

[63]Chhorn Chansy and Simon Marks, “Authorities Continue Sweep for Undesirables,” Cambodia Daily, May 23-24, 2009.

[64]Involving district police, district officials, commune chiefs and police officers and under the leadership of the district governor.

[65]Rasmey, “Daun Penh district authority arrested 19 female sex workers in the round up around Wat Phnom,” Kampuchea Thmey Daily, November 25, 2009.


[67]Mom Kunthear, “City police arrest 17 suspected prostitutes,” Phnom Penh Post, October 30, 2009. 

[68]Vong Sokheng and Khouth Sophak Chakrya, “Hun Sen tells officials not to meddle with vice crackdown,” The Phnom Penh Post, March 5, 2010, http://www.phnompenhpost.com/index.php/2010030533129/National-news/hun-sen-tells-officials-not-to-meddle-with-vice-crackdown.html (accessed April 11, 2010).