Mon, Jul 14, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Vietnam cracks down on sex trade

AFP , HANOI

Two Vietnamese bar-girls sit chatting with a foreigner in a night-club in Hanoi. A new decree will name all civil servants, military and police personnel found to have frequented the services of a lady of the night.

PHOTO: AFP

Few have taken Vietnam's previous pledges to eradicate prostitution seriously, but new legislation could result in state employees caught with their pants down finding themselves in an unfamiliar and embarrassing position.

Under the new decree that came into force on July 1, the names of all civil servants, military and police personnel found to have frequented the services of a lady of the night will be passed on to their superiors for punishment.

In a country with 1.3 million state employees, civil servants account for 60 percent of prostitutes' customers, according to official figures.

"It is the first official decree on this matter and it is aimed at people who pay for sexual services and work in the public sector," said Vu Ngoc Thuy of the National Committee for the Progress of Women.

Those caught in the uncompromising act will face fines of between US$15 and US$250 and be barred from promotion for a given period. Repeat offenders risk suspension.

Previously, state employees were fined a token amount of money and given a "warning" in the name of "safeguarding cultural traditions and maintaining social order."

In a forerunner of the new decree, authorities in the southern province of Can Tho published in July last year in the state-controlled press a list of 20 state employees who frequented houses of pleasure.

Last month's vote on the new legislation by the National Assembly, Vietnam's parliament, triggered much debate, in particular on the disclosure of the names of the culprits.

Perhaps aware that they themselves could fall foul of the law, deputies also discussed the dilemma of combating this "social evil" while protecting the dignity of state employees and the state of their marital relations.

After lengthy discussions, they eventually agreed that the names of offenders should not be passed on to their families, only to their bosses.

In line with the communist tradition of pinning dates and statistics on everything, the government has earmarked 2005 as the target date by which the phenomenon of state employees engaging the services of prostitutes will be brought under control.

But their objective is likely to be difficult to achieve given that prostitution is a long-established part of the culture in Vietnam.

Hair salons, karaoke bars and massage parlors offering "additional services" are abundant in the political capital Hanoi, as they are in other cities across the country.

State employees often celebrate national festivals and success at work with an evening out on the town, which usually involves copious quantities of alcohol, a slap-up feast and an evening in a karaoke bar followed by further "after hours" entertainment.

"The purchase of the sexual services by public sector employees is rather widespread," said Nguyen Thi Hue from the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, who is leading the anti-prostitution drive.

"It will prove very difficult to know the names, addresses and the exact places of work of the civil servants affected by these sanctions because they will provide false information or say they have forgotten their papers."

Hue also admitted that the annual budget of US$1.5 million for implementing the legislation was "very insufficient."

Nguyen Ngoc Lan, manager of a Hanoi mini-hotel -- the favored place for illicit bedroom entertainment -- is sceptical that the decree will curtail the trade.

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