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Published on Mar 30, 2008


The results of this survey gave a strong impression that although there are many different purposes for Vietnamese to (temporarily) migrate to Cambodia, those being forced or deceived are mostly ending up in commercial sex work. An earlier report on Vietnamese prostitutes described that for a lot of Cambodians there is a clear link between prostitution and Vietnamese women. Not only are Vietnamese women considered to be very beautiful because of their whiter skin, they are also considered to be more sexually skilled than Khmer women are. Therefore, Prasso writes, prostitution is considered to be 'un-Khmer': "The rationalization is, because all Khmer women are virtuous, all prostitutes must be Vietnamese." A meekrom, or group leader, in Cbah Ampeu even argued that it is a cultural trait of Vietnamese families to bring their daughters into prostitution. He said:

"Nearly 100 percent of the Vietnamese girls here are prostitutes. It is their tradition, even if the daughter is from a rich family...They mostly sell their daughters themselves. For example, they sell the girl to work with a meebon for a while. Then she has to work for many months or years to repay her parent's loan. There is often a money problem between the meebon and the parents."

There is a strong conviction that most of the commercial sex workers in Cambodia are ethnically Vietnamese. The numbers presented in the report on "The Problem of Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking in Cambodia", however, show a very different picture. According to this report 18 percent of the prostitutes working throughout the country are Vietnamese. One has to note that some underreporting is possible, since Vietnamese women might have covered their identity out of fear of expulsion.

According to several informants, there are significant differences between the Vietnamese and Cambodian prostitutes. In most cases, the Vietnamese are considered to be less ashamed, smarter when it comes to earning money, and more hygienic. A health worker in Ratanakiri commented:

"In general the Vietnamese recruiters, who bring Vietnamese women to work as prostitutes in Cambodia, give some money to the parents of the women. When the women stay in the brothel, the meebon takes a certain percentage for food and shelter. The rest is for the women. For Khmer women this is 100 percent different. The Khmer women are all deceived, by the recruiters and the meebon. When a Khmer woman comes to brothel, the meebon gives some money to the recruiter and provides her some clothes. After that she is not free to go. The money she earns goes to the meebon, but the woman does not receive any money. If she wants to leave for another brothel, she has to pay the meebon and sometimes she is just sold to another meebon."

This view on the differences between Vietnamese and Cambodian prostitutes fits very well in the stereotype of Vietnamese being clever business people, whereas Cambodians are the simple farmers and casual labourers. However, in the report on trafficking of Cambodian women to Thailand it became clear that Cambodian women were also calculating commercial sex workers. A health worker in Svay Rieng argued that Vietnamese women, besides being able to save much more money, are also thinking much more about their health:

"The Vietnamese women only work for one or two months and they have a lot of jewellery. The Vietnamese women are usually changed often by the meebon and therefore they can attract more customers. The Khmer women work for two years and have nothing left. They spend their money on games and their sangsaa [boyfriend]. Khmer women also get more often sick, because they don't think of sexually transmitted diseases when they are with their sangsaa, or when customers refuse to use condoms. The Vietnamese prostitutes finish ten boxes of condoms in a month, whereas Khmer prostitutes cannot finish even one."

So far, the Cambodian authorities have not developed a consistent policy regarding the presence of illegal migrants in Cambodia, although some have very outspoken ideas about the bad influences of the illegal Vietnamese on Cambodian society. Sambath Kang writes, "The most noticeable aspect of the society is the problem of the Vietnamese settlers who illegally come to live in Phnom Penh and throughout Cambodia." He continues that these illegal Vietnamese create many problems in Cambodian society, and that the Vietnamese were the first to open brothels and therefore have brought the problem of prostitution into Cambodia. Furthermore, he argues that Vietnamese goods are flooding into Cambodia, which combined with the Vietnamese settlers entering Cambodia causes the "Vietnamization" of Cambodia.

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