Vietnam should legalize prostitution: sociologist

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A file photo shows billboards in Hanoi warning people that drugs and having sex with prostitutes lead to AIDS. Photo: AFP

Legalizing prostitution would help protect both sex workers and their clients, and bring revenues to the government in the form of tax, Le Quang Binh, managing director of the Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment, tells Vietweek.

Vietweek: Should we legalize prostitution and consider it a job?

Le Quang Binh: I think we should legalize it since it is related to human rights. Forcing prostitutes to go to re-education camps is a violation of their human rights. In fact, prostitutes do not commit any offences, so arresting them is unreasonable. So prostitution should be legalized and considered normal.

Health specialists say legalization could help reduce the risk of diseases. A prostitute who operates furtively suffers many risks. They may become victims of rape and robbery.

If prostitution is legalized, prostitutes can be protected better. Now prostitution is illegal. Many customers take advantage of this to abuse prostitutes. Legalization could help protect prostitutes, and ensure an equal relationship between prostitutes and their customers, which would reduce risks faced by them.

Obviously, prostitution has existed for a long time and cannot be prevented.

Saying that prostitution destroys moral values is incorrect, so there should be a rethink on prostitution. In Vietnam, sex is not an issue discussed openly.

Who has demand for sex? They are all people with sexual capability and good health. Not everybody has a spouse. Sexual rights have been much talked about in the world. All people have the right to enjoy sex satisfactorily, safely, and responsibly. Not all single people, to satisfy their sex demand, are able or want to seek a sexual partner. They look for prostitutes.

Legalization of prostitution will help protect both prostitutes and their customers. It will also bring economic benefit to the government in the form of taxes imposed on prostitutes.

I think we should review the concept of sex and prostitution. It is a social value which should change with the times.

Prostitution is considered a social evil. But the issue is more openly discussed now. What do you think about the change?

Le Quang Binh, managing director of the Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment

Our society is in a state of transformation from a poor country to a middle-income one. We are integrating more deeply in terms of culture and society. We welcome many different currents of thought, many different currents of culture, and different lifestyles, which could create cultural clashes.

The important question is how we welcome the differences. It is unreasonable to base oneself on a value or thought to reject another value or thought since people appreciate the freedom of individuals, freedom of thought, and freedom of body.

We should also deal with the issue of prostitution in this manner. People have the right to choose prostitution. We cannot say you should not work as prostitutes because of violation of traditional values since whether they have the opportunity to choose other jobs is a big question.

I think the voice of prostitutes has been ignored. It is important to provide prostitutes opportunities to talk about their choice, which could help policymakers have a better understanding of it. When talking about prostitutes, many policymakers think about a group of diseased people or swindlers.

What are the barriers to legalizing prostitution?

There will be cultural barriers. The issue cannot get social sanction. However, it does not mean that we should not do anything that does not get social approval. The law has the role of protecting the rights of all people where the rights do not affect others' rights. If the law protects the rights of prostitutes, it would not impinge on the rights of those who disapprove of prostitution.

Will legalization increase or decrease the incidence of prostitution?

The increase or decrease will not be important if we recognize that it is normal and develops based on supply and demand. In fact, many people believe legalization would reduce prostitution.

If we consider prostitution to be normal, and its decrease or increase simply depends on demand, we will not be interested in the trend.

How can we regulate prostitution?

We should learn from the experience of countries which recognize prostitution as a legal industry, like Germany and Holland. If we consider it as a job, we should have transparent regulations. I do not agree with rigid administrative regulations. For example, it is too complicated and could cause corruption if we ask prostitutes to obtain job certification.

Prostitutes have to register to work and pay taxes. The government could use taxes to regulate their work. If we don't want it to develop, we could levy high taxes. If we want to boost it, we could impose low taxes.

I think we should encourage prostitutes to register so that we could manage them well. To do this the procedures should be simple, and prostitutes could be better protected and enjoy health services if they register.

If taxes on them are too high, it could cause tax evasion. We should impose reasonable taxes that are acceptable to both the government and prostitutes.

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