News / Asia

    UN Report Calls for Decriminalization of Prostitution in Asia

    A night scene of the red-light district in south Pattaya in Chonburi province, 70 kilometers south of Bangkok (2000 file photo).
    A night scene of the red-light district in south Pattaya in Chonburi province, 70 kilometers south of Bangkok (2000 file photo).
    Gabrielle Paluch
    Results of the first U.N. study examining how the criminalization of prostitution has affected the lives of sex workers across Asia and worsened HIV epidemics have been released. 

    The U.N. surveyed sex workers in 48 countries across Asia to determine how prostitution laws affect the safety and health of prostitutes and their families.

    Lack of rights

    Noi Chantawipa Apisuk runs a foundation for sex workers in Thailand called EMPOWER.  She says sex workers in the country can earn enough money to support their families, but they lack the legal protections given to workers in other industries.  She has been lobbying the Thai government to change that.

    "Sex work is work, and entertainment work is business," she said.  "Entertainment workers are protected under the labor law, like manufacturing sector workers, agricultural sector workers.  So if we recognize it, if they have problems it can be solved by employer and employee in the labor court rather than go to the police."

    HIV protection

    Researchers say in places where prostitution is banned, sex workers are especially vulnerable because their work is stigmatized and illegal.  They argue that removing legal penalties for prostitution allows for better access to health checkups and treatment programs.

    The acting director of the U.N. HIV Health and Development Practice, Dr. Mandeep Dhaliwal, says there is evidence some governments are making progress towards changing laws that are hampering effective HIV prevention.

    She applauded Vietnam and China for stopping programs that detained sex workers and their children.  In Cambodia and Burma, governments have asked police to stop harassing prostitutes.  But she says there are still many contradictory policies that pose public health risks.

    "On the one hand, you spend millions of dollars providing condoms to prevent HIV transmission, and then on the other hand you have police confiscating condoms or using condoms as evidence to arrest or harass sex workers.  It is an absurd contradiction that is costing people's lives," said Dhaliwal.

    Less punitive approach

    Human rights lawyer and author of the report John Godwin says countries that endorse a less punitive approach also minimize human-rights violations and health risks.  He says grass roots efforts to work with police and local authorities are making progress in carving out a healthy work environment for sex workers.

    "Initiatives that are community led, who are actually organizing themselves to have a dialogue with the police and local authorities to improve their conditions of work.  They are having de-facto support of the authorities to work in healthier situations, to work without police harassment.  You are seeing successes, as I said, in Calcutta," said Godwin.

    Besides India, the report also singles out Papua New Guinea, Mongolia, Thailand, Fiji, Laos and the Philippines for making progress on laws that improve efforts to treat and contain HIV.

    While researchers say decriminalizing sex work in those countries would further improve the situation for prostitutes - the situation is different in Indonesia.  There, although prostitution is not illegal, the U.N. says sex workers are routinely abused by law enforcement agencies and discriminated against by the public and the government.

    You May Like

    Clinton, Trump and the 'Woman’s Card'

    Ask supporters of Democratic front-runner in US presidential campaign, and they’ll tell you Republican presidential candidate is playing a dangerous hand

    Russian Censorship Group Seeks Chinese Help to Better Control Internet

    At recent Safe Internet League forum in Moscow, speakers from both nations underscored desire for authorities to further limit and control information online

    Video Makeshift Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Free classes in Islamabad park serve a few of the country’s nearly 25 million out-of-school youths; NGO cites ‘education crisis’

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora