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Illegal in Vietnam, prostitution can still be found all over the country's biggest cities, with those controlling it coming up with countless ways to dodge the law and authorities seemingly helpless to stop its unchecked development. That was the insight given by an anti-prostitution official in Ho Chi Minh City. At a recent conference to evaluate the city's efforts to curb what the authorities call "social evil" over the last six months, Tran Van Ngoi, a social affairs official in District 12, said that the number of so-called cafes offering girls had surpassed what inspectors are capable of checking.
Along just a few kilometers of highway in his district, there are some 40 cafes that offer prostitution services, marked by two coconuts and a colored light at the front. In central HCMC, prostitution has abandoned the streets and moved indoors, rendering most inspection efforts useless, said Le Thi Phuong Cham, another social affairs official in District 1.
Sex tourism is also showing signs of returning. HCMC has 17, businesses offering services likely to attract prostitutes such as clubs, bars, beer clubs and cafes. As prostitution continues to grow, authorities are struggling to get a handle on it because as soon as they close down one brothel, others are alerted and shut down.
A license revoked here will become another license issued there. Concluding the conference, Huynh Thanh Khiet, vice director of the city's Department of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs, said that the increase in prostitution was due to legal policies that do not give officials authority to punish prostitutes who don't pay their fines. The city looks to compel all businesses offering services that could be linked to prostitution to sign an agreement not to do so and hang it on their shop fronts.
Vietnam's abolition of compulsory rehabilitation for sex workers in has since sparked fierce debates among researchers, officials and lawmakers on whether the country should legalize sex work. Proponents of legalizing prostitution in Vietnam say the move is critical because it could significantly reduce the transmission of HIV among sex workers, citing studies that indicate that in places where prostitution is illegal, sex workers are more susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases.