With conservative society and man-dominant culture, rights of sex workers in Burma are still vague. Authorities denied to amend the Suppression of Prostitution Act enacted in 1948.
Sandar Min, an MP from the National League for Democracy, questioned the deputy minister of the Ministry of Home Affairs about whether the current prostitution act will be amended at a meeting of parliament on July 9. She has also been advocating for sex workers’ rights and legalizing prostitution.
Brigadier General Kyaw Kyaw Htun, who is also Chief of Police, responded that there is no plan to amend it since the 1948 act is still judicious. He also asserted that the current act foiled the sex industry from growing too big.
Although he agreed that poverty and unemployment are causes for a spike in the number of prostitutes, he said immorality when it comes to social and the lure of easy money in the sex industry are more to blame.
Voices to legalize prostitution became louder in 2012. On International Human Rights Day last year, Sandar Min discussed women rights, including systematically legalizing prostitution.
Persecution of sex workers in Burma has put underprivileged young women at risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. According to Aids Data Hub, 18.4% of sex workers in Burma were infected with HIV in 2008. Due to its illegality, NGOs face challenges helping them – even to distribute free condoms.
In Burma, people seldom discuss sex education in public and it is often regarded as something immoral. Many Burmese views condoms as filthy things and police might detain girls with condoms on suspicion of being a commercial sex worker. The largest obstacle to legalizing prostitution is that a majority of the Burmese public think prostitution goes against traditional Burmese culture. Sandar Min is denounced by some Burmese for proposing such a legalization act.
Although it is illegal to sell sex, there is no law against buying sex unless the sex worker is underage. After the response she received during the legislative session, Sandar Min said the “Chief cop did not agree to amend prostitution act. I asked. I proposed it because I think the act punishable for women who sell sex but not to the men who buy sex should be amended,” via her Facebook page.
Sandar Min also affirmed that she would continue attempting to amend the current act by drafting a more up-to-date law to protect sex workers’ rights, despite the minister’s disagreement.
As there is no permitted red light district, many CSWs work under the cover of massage parlours, unisex beauty saloons, private karaoke rooms and clubs. Polices sometimes raid such brothel-transformed-leisure places in order to prosecute sex workers, which many say can be prevented by regular bribes to local police officers. According to Voice Weekly, police ceased 1,956 cases in 2011, 3,226 cases in 2012 and 640 cases for the year as of May 2013.
Despite claims that there is less gender discrimination in Burma, advocating for women rights is still debatable. Many Burmese still think CSWs are punishable, while they are almost silent about men who pay for sex. It seems that gender equality in Burma has a long way to go, as do other human rights improvements in the nation.