Prostitution Mobility and Representations: The Case of Vietnamese Prostitutes going to Cambodia

Rapport de recherche, 2011, Ho Chi Minh Ville: Alliance Anti-Trafic

This study, based on 18 months’ fieldwork in the Mekong Delta, addresses the issue of women’s cross-border mobility for the aim of prostitution between Southern Vietnam and Cambodia. The goal is to update existing research carried out in Cambodia in the late 1990s by Western researchers commissioned by aid organizations, and to bring a Vietnamese perspective into the picture. Research had explained mobility from Vietnam in the late 1990s in terms of the easy money female migrant prostitutes could earn in Cambodia. According to our findings, the situation has changed and this paper explores why. Although illegal migration for prostitution from Vietnam to Phnom Penh remains an easy alternative, it appears less attractive than in the late 1990s and early 2000s in the context of increasing globalization and inter-connections in Asia.

First, the paper examines the situation on the ground in the late 1990s: cross-border mobility and routes in the Mekong Delta, and Vietnamese prostitution in Phnom Penh, especially in the Vietnamese enclave of Kilometer Eleven or Svay Pak. Second, the paper explores the reasons underlying the obvious change of perception by potential unskilled migrants who no longer perceive Cambodia as some sort El Dorado and therefore an appealing destination. Various reasons underlie explain this change, like increased awareness of the risks of deception and exploitation thanks to massive campaigns against human trafficking. Another factor is the increased availability of more attractive professional options, such as internal migration for prostitution to provinces along the Mekong Delta, to Hô Chi Minh City and its suburban provinces undergoing rapid industrialization and economic growth. This paper demonstrates that nowadays mobility from An Giang province to Cambodia is no longer relevant.