Human Trafficking Legislation Threatens Cambodia's Progress Against HIV/AIDS

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Cambodian legislation against human trafficking and sexual exploitation is posing a threat to the country's progress against HIV/AIDS, IRIN/PlusNews reports. According to Tony Lisle, UNAIDS Cambodia country coordinator, the March 2008 legislation has "had unintentional consequences that have interrupted HIV prevention services in the sex industry." He added that nongovernmental organizations are having "significant" difficulty providing commercial sex workers with HIV/AIDS-related health services because they are leaving brothels to evade police, instead working from the streets and bars.


The country's HIV prevalence in 2005 was 0.9%, a decrease from 1997 when the prevalence was 3.7%. Prime Minister Hun Sen in 2001 endorsed a 100% condom use policy for commercial sex workers that reduced the prevalence among the population from 45.8% in 1998 to 12.7% in 2006. However, the recent human trafficking law has led to the targeting of commercial sex workers by police, Lisle said. "Legislation is a necessary component to stop HIV/AIDS, but now we need to make sure police understand the intent of the law and that the laws criminalize traffickers, not consenting sex workers," he said, adding, "Many women (who) choose this work are not trafficked."

Lisle said that new sexual behaviors in Cambodia also are contributing to the spread of HIV, adding that "HIV has a way of finding new hosts and spreading." A survey conducted by Population Services International between 2005 and 2006 revealed two additional factors: clients of commercial sex workers living in coastal and border provinces are more mobile and therefore more likely to spread the virus, and sex workers in the region often have little experience or formal education and cannot negotiate condom use. IRIN/PlusNews also examined a trend in which Cambodian men have long-term sexual relations with women working in karaoke bars or beer gardens, often without using condoms. Many men say that condom use is not necessary because they are in long-term relationships with the women, according to IRIN/PlusNews (IRIN/PlusNews, 10/21).

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