Thursday, January 23, 2003

Cambodia shuts down red-light district

Thousands of women and children work as prostitutes
Thousands of women and children work as prostitutes

Cambodia's notorious Svay Pak shantytown, where girls as young as 10 are employed as prostitutes, has been shut down by the Cambodian Government.

Police swooped on the brothel community, on the outskirts of the capital Phnom Penh, a day before the start of a regional tourism conference.

Police Chief General Soun Chheangly said the decision was made in an effort to salvage Cambodia's cultural reputation.

The village was a well-known destination for foreign sex-tourists and paedophiles.

"Svay Pak is extremely famous for its bad name," Mr Soun told the French news agency AFP.

"So the government does not allow (the brothels) to operate any more, because it affects our culture badly," he said.

Lee Lay, police chief for the municipal district in which Svay Pak is located, insisted the closure is permanent.

In the past, many brothels have reopened a few days after being shut down.

Bad reputation

Police arrived in the village on Wednesday evening, turning away customers, closing brothels and ordering an immediate halt to the sex trade.

Many young girls are forced into prostitution through poverty
Many young girls are forced into prostitution through poverty

Svay Pak is now largely deserted and women working in the area have found other places to stay or have been taken into custody by the social welfare ministry, the police said.

Svay Pak is renowned for its reputation of child trafficking and sexual exploitation.

The village has about 20 brothels, each employing 10 to 30 prostitutes.

The majority of the prostitutes are Vietnamese, servicing foreign and Cambodian clientele for as little as $3 per customer.

Women's Affairs Minister Mu Sochua said the up-coming Association of South-East Nations tourism conference was one reason for the closure, but said women's rights activists had been calling for the industry to be shut down for years.

Paedophilia crackdown

Prostitution is illegal in Cambodia, but officials have long turned a blind eye.

Over the past 20 years, thousands of women and young girls have been coerced or enslaved into the sex trade.

But last year Prime Minister Hun Sen launched a sweeping paedophilia crackdown, and many young girls have since been rescued.

Despite this, some brothels and karaoke bars have eluded prosecution by changing their names to massage parlours, or bribing police and other authorities.

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Created: January 24, 2003
Last modified: April 12, 2003
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