New law could unshackle prostitution, warns official

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The anti-social evils department Friday urged local authorities around Vietnam to get tough on prostitution, warning it could get out of control from next year when sex workers will no longer be subject to compulsory rehabilitation.

Speaking at a press conference Le Duc Hien, deputy chief of the department, said 803 women sex workers currently at rehabilitation centers would be released when the Law on Civil Violation Punishment takes effect next July. 

Though they account for only 5-6 percent of total documented sex workers, and 2-3 percent of suspected ones, their release would have an impact, he said.

A report from the Hanoi Social Evils Prevention Office showed that out of 208 sex workers who will be discharged from local rehab centers in two weeks' time, 142 have STDs and 8-9 percent of them are HIV positive.

Hien said that it should be ensured that the number of prostitutes does not increase and that sex workers should be taught about safe sex.

Campaigns are also needed to raise awareness about the possible risks involved in having relations with commercial sex workers, especially among those who have family crises and financial difficulties, who are likely to seek out prostitutes, he said.

Laws against prostitution need to be amended, he stressed.

Asked about the chance of legalizing prostitution in Vietnam, Hien said his department has done studies and gathered public opinion for the last several years and did not find it tenable considering social security, protection of women's dignity, and traditional morality.

Legalizing prostitution is not simply about creating red-light areas and taxing them, but also about drugs and labor exploitation, he said.

Under the new Law, sex workers will only be fined VND300,000 (US$15) for their first offense and VND5 million for subsequent offenses.

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Local governments will be responsible for reintegrating repeat offenders.

Currently sex workers aged between 16 and 55 are sent to rehabilitation centers for three to 18 months.

As of July 35 such centers were operating across the country. 

Their function would change to providing support and consultation on health and laws to sex workers after the new law takes effect, Hien added.

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