Prostitution becoming widespread, Vietnam ministry admits

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Prostitutes cruising streets in downtown Ho Chi Minh City a few years ago. Photo by Nghia Pham

The number of sex workers in Vietnam -- criminals according to the government -- increased last year and prostitution became harder to control, the social affairs ministry said Friday.

A report by the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs said the number grew to nearly 33,000 in 2013, up more than 9 percent from the previous year, Tuoi Tre newspaper reported.

But the number local government agencies have on file dropped by more than a third.

Prostitution is illegal in Vietnam and sex workers face fines of VND300,000 (US$14.2) for their first offence and up to VND5 million for repeat offences. Their clients are fined VND500,000-5 million depending on the circumstances.

But civil society has been pressuring the government to legalize prostitution so that the industry could be regulated.

The ministry said prostitution has become increasingly complicated to control as those involved are employing new ruses to avoid being detected.

It is most rife in large cities like Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Hai Phong and nearby Nam Dinh Province and in tourist destinations, the ministry said.

Local statistics showed that of the country's more than 83,000 shops offering body services, such as spas, salons and barber shops, more than 8,000 are suspected to provide sex services.

Programs to help sex workers reintegrate into the community were established years ago, but only 500 of them were supported and with loans worth just VND2 billion ($95,000), the ministry said.

It also said other crimes related to prostitution increased from 2012.

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