Vietnam official draws flak for calling notorious sex towns clean

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A sex worker being escorted to a customer inside a guesthouse in Do Son, Hai Phong

Recent statements by a top social affairs official about supposedly prostitution-free zones in northern Vietnam have resulted in loud objections from local residents and officials.

Pham Ngoc Dung, deputy head of the prostitution prevention desk at the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs, said at a meeting on June 13 that no sex business has been detected recently in beach towns Do Son of Hai Phong and Quat Lam of Nam Dinh, according to the reports of local authorities based on their regular raids.

But a guesthouse owner in Quat Lam, which has been dubbed "sex heaven," said there are hundreds of prostitutes who work the beach.

"They reach out and pull at men's shirts as they go past," said the woman who wanted to be known only by her initials L.T.N.

Tran Thi Lan, who runs an eatery near the beach, said any child in the area knows the service price of VND150,000 (US$7) an hour.

Pham Van Hai, a tourist, expressed frustration over what he called "blatant" prostitution. "Customers can choose girls like buying vegetables, bargains are made right on the street and the girls argue with each other over the customers, or sometimes with the customers over the prices."

Do Son locals have become accustomed to the daily routine of sex workers, who tend to wake up at 10 a.m. and receive customers from 1 p.m. until 3 a.m. the next morning, and are even busier on the weekend.

They said the service is concentrated at guesthouses located behind the Construction Ministry, which has earned the nickname "red-light district," and customers only need to wait in the room and women will be summoned, for an average price of VND250,000 ($12) a session.

While Quat Lam is an emerging site, Do Son has made headlines for many years for its prostitution, which is even known to foreign visitors.

Directors of the Hai Phong and Nam Dinh's social affairs department, denied reports that the area was free of prostitution.

Nguyen Van Vinh from Nam Dinh said Dung had made "inaccurate statements."

Although prostitution is illegal in Vietnam, the service is widespread.

Under Vietnamese law, a sex workers are fined VND300,000 ($14) for their first offence, and VND5 million for subsequent offences.

But many have stayed with the job which, according to a labor ministry report released March last year, earns females an average of VND10.6 million ($505) a month and VND6.55 million ($312) for male prostitutes.

Vietnam's per capita income was $1,555 in 2012.

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