Vietnam will free about 900 sex workers next year from prisons, euphemistically named rehabilitation centres.
The sex workers will be able to return home when a newly amended administrative law comes into effect at the start of July 2013, according to the Thanh Nien newspaper.
This is a big change of view on how to deal with prostitution, Le Duc Hien, deputy head of the government's department for social vices prevention, was quoted as saying.
Since July this year, sex workers have no longer been jailed when picked up by the authorities, but are now fined up to five million dong (US$240 dollars) instead, Thanh Nien said.
Vietnam has maintained special prisons for drug users and sex workers for years despite international calls for their closure. A report by US-based Human Rights Watch released a year ago said drug users were made to perform forced labour. It said
the prisons were rife with physical abuse.
Sex workers have allegedly been operating more openly since the country shut down its prison camps, but experts are quick to note that poverty is the root cause of the problem.
Tran Thien Thu was delighted when Vietnam authorities scrapped the policy of sending prostitutes to prison camps a year ago, as the oldest profession represents her sole means to eke out a living in Ho Chi Minh City. She explained:
It's easier to breathe now. I can't earn enough doing anything else. It is difficult to get a good job because I quit school at fifth grade.
On the street I can earn VND400,000 (US$19) a night serving two customers. I can't get a legal job that pays VND2-3 million a month,
Meanwhile government officials and experts are still divided as to how to respond to the issue. Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc singled out leaders from HCMC, Nam Dinh and Hai Phong to report on their prostitution situations, because there
have been many emerging problems in those localities.
Last week, HCMC police raided several karaoke lounges in HCMC's Binh Thanh District and found dozens of female employees clad in bikinis seated beside guests. Police believed that several rooms were being used for sex, but failed to catch anyone
A recent report by the HCMC People's Committee claims that many criminals have 'abused' the open regulations -- meaning the elimination of compulsory prison and the lack of punitive measures against sex acts other than intercourse -- to
offer sex services at their places of business.
Vietnam's Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs has proposed that the names of sex buyers should be revealed as a nasty measure to deter them from resorting to sex services still considered illegal in Vietnam.
The ministry has also suggested that their sex buying should be reported to their employers and local authorities.
The ministry said that the current fines, from VND500,000 (US$22.2) to VND10 million ($440), applied to sex buyers are low and don't prevent repeat offending. Therefore, publicizing the names of sex buyers should be considered an official
administrative punishment inflicted on them.
Lawyer Pham Thanh Binh advised that lawmakers should carefully consider the possible consequences of such name publication. He warned:
It may cause unforeseeable social consequences. There were circumstances in which people committed suicide after the names of their fathers were revealed as sex buyer.