Orientation to improve social support policies for sex workers

04/05/2018 14:23:51

The article reviews the views on sex work in Viet Nam, policies that support sex workers over the time, and orientations for improving social support policies for sex workers.

In summary, prostitution is a social issue and sexual activities are illegal in Vietnam. Therefore, the viewpoint of taking preventive action is always maintained, and activities to reduce the harmful effects of sex work on the social life; Reduction of sex offenses is directed towards ensuring the human rights of sex workers, ensuring equal access to and use of social services by sex workers and encouraging participation of social partners. The article reviews the views on sex work in Viet Nam, policies that support sex workers over the time, and orientations for improving social support policies for sex workers.

Key words: Social security, policies to support vocational training, job introduction; preferential credit policy; health care support policy; sex workers.


1.      Lead-in

        Prostitution is a social issue that has existed throughout the history of human development and has operated in a variety of ways. Prostitution does not exist in a single country or region but exists in many parts of the world, including Vietnam. By the end of 2015, Vietnam had 11,240 sex workers, most of them concentrated in some areas such as the Red River Delta (3,673 people); Southeast (3,200 people); However, the actual number can be much higher because it is very difficult to control because of its complexity, sophistication and disguise[1].

Although prostitution is illegal in Viet Nam, in order to implement harm reduction interventions, the Government of Viet Nam has developed many social welfare policies to assist sex workers in accessing commune services and ensure the right and integration into the community. Current social support policies for sex workers are mainly focused on health promotion, health care, infected disease control and social diseases, support for vocational training for livelihoods, legal support training, violence prevention; These social support policies play an important role in reducing vulnerability and inequality, which can help sex workers integrate into society, stopping or reducing their participation in sex work while assuring their health, asserting human rights and engaging in community, social and labor market activities.

However, access to social support policies for many sex workers is very difficult due to various barriers such as lack of information, understanding of policy; psychological inferiority, inferiority; complicated administrative procedures ... making the effectiveness of social support policies not high.

2.      Viewpoint on prostitution in Vietnam

Sexual activities are illegal so the Party and State have taken strong measures to intervene to strengthen the prevention and control of prostitution. Although the policy of the State does not formalize sex work, the Government has promulgated and implemented intervention programs to support groups of sex workers in each specific period, in accordance with Article Socio-economic development and international integration.

During the period from 2003 to May 2011, the management of sex workers was applied according to the measure of being admitted to medical treatments and rehabilitation of dignity according to the provisions of Decree No. 135/2004 / ND-CP. During the period of treatment and rehabilitation of dignity in the center, the sex workers are provided with medical, vocational training, cultural education, the purchase of necessary personal belongings and participation in labor and remuneration is paid based on the labor norms and the results of work completed upon labor participation.

The period from 2012-present: In order to promote human rights as well as strengthen the role of families and communities in the prevention and combat against prostitution, the National Assembly promulgated Resolution No. 24/2012 / QH13 on examinations. Law on the handling of administrative violations, which contains provisions on new management methods for sex workers. "Not to apply the measure of education at communes, wards or townships and send them to medical establishments for sex workers. People who commit acts of prostitution shall be punished to administrative sanctions in accordance with law "(Paragraph 1 of Article 2). This decree has marked the transition in our view of the management of sex workers in Vietnam in accordance with the requirements of the process of integration and development of the country.

Therefore, the programs of action for prevention and combat against prostitution in the period of 2011 - 2015 are built on the viewpoint of prevention as the focus and focus on prostitution in key provinces. Focus on propaganda, education, awareness raising, behavioral change, lifestyle of individuals, families, communities, creating the consensus of the whole society, prevention from distance; increased integration with social security programs; Focusing on the activities that assist sex workers are women and children in accessing social services (education, vocational training, health care, job change ...) in the community; Strengthening family and community support in HIV / AIDS care and prevention, giving them opportunities to change their lives and integrate into the social community.

The program for prevention and control of prostitution in the period 2016-2020 continues to maintain the focus of prevention as the period 2011-2015, creating strong changes in awareness, raising the responsibility of all levels, branches and the entire society in the work of prostitution prevention and combat; Minimize harms of prostitution on social life; Reduce crime related to prostitution. New point in the prevention of prostitution in this period is to ensure the human rights of sex workers, ensure equal access to, use of social services of sex workers and encourage the participation of social partners.

3.      Social support policies for sex workers

        Social support policies for sex workers in Viet Nam have been advocated and changed in line with the viewpoint of sex work, socio-economic context and international integration.

* Vocational training and job creation support policy

For sex workers, the program to support vocational training and job creation is divided into two stages (from the promulgation of the Ordinance on Prostitution Prevention and Fight 2003) as follows:

        -   In the period of 2003 - 2011: Together with the management of sex workers in medical treatment centers (also known as Centers for Healing, Labor and Social Education), the support for sex workers on vocational training and job creation is mainly carried out at the centers for healing and labor-social education. The centers have organized vocational training combined with labor production in line with the ability of sex workers to help them improve their daily living and improve their capacity to reintegrate into the community.

        -   From 2012 up to now: Due to the change in the management of sex workers from the management of sex workers in medical establishments to administrative sanctions, there are no specific and separate regulations related to vocational training, job opportunities for sex workers. These programs and policies are developed in line with the policy of integrating with the general programs and policies on vocational training and job creation whether the subject is a sex worker or not. Specifically, it integrates with the Vocational Training Program for Rural Labor under the Prime Minister's Decision No. 1956 / QD-TTg dated on November 27, 2009 approving the project "Vocational training for laborers rural areas to 2020 "; The National Target Program on Employment and Vocational Training for the period 2012-2015 under Decision No. 1201 / QD-TTg dated on August 31, 2012 ... is implemented through Job Service Centers. Therefore, sex workers who are in need of vocational training or job placement assistance are supported under general policies.

        -   Non-profit organizations, non-governmental organizations and other organizations also have a number of vocational training and job placement programs for sex workers but at a small scale and focus only on a few cities such as Ho Chi Minh City (support for Lo'real Hair Training).

        * Preferential credit policy

In order to ensure livelihoods for sex workers who have been reformed as well as for their families, on April 26, 2014, the Government issued Decision No. 29/2014 / QD-TTg on credit for households and HIV infected people, drug addicts, drug addicts using alternative drugs, reformedsex workers. Based on that, VBSP developed Guideline No. 3337 / NHCS-TDSV dated on September 30, 2014 on lending to households and people living with HIV, drug addicts using substitution drugs and sex workers in accordance with Decision 29/2014 / QD-TTg. The period 2014-2016 is the time for pilot implementation of this Decision in the scope of 15 provinces/cities.

Loan conditions:

- The reformedsex workers must get confirmation of the no-sale from the president of the commune-level People's Committee or the head of one of the local socio-political organizations or the head of the club or the leader. The head of the network shall be established by socio-political organizations or social organizations.

- Legal residence and stable living in the locality where borrows the loan.

- Having a production and business plan and having the capability to repay the loan as committed.

- Being a member of Savings and Loan Team of Vietnam Bank for Social Policies.

- Living alone or living with their under-working children or living with their parents, spouses, children, grand-grandparents or siblings, but these people are over-working or unable to work in accordance with the law.

Citing the Prime Minister's Decision No. 29/2014 / QD-TTg dated 26/4/2014.


However, the implementation of Decision No. 29 is a problem for localities when the Decision is ready to finish the pilot phase of 15 provinces / cities, but most provinces still have many difficulties and embarrassment in the implementation of administrative procedures related to preferential credit disbursement to sex workers refund. Therefore, the implementation of this Decision is being delayed by the plan. Some of the main reasons are: (1) Sex workers themselves are still very self-deprecating, inferior to their work. Social stigma has put pressure on them, leaving them hiding their jobs. Therefore, it is very difficult to recognize yourself as a sex worker. (2) Obstacles come from the agencies responsible for confirming the reformation of sex workers, specifically the local authorities where the sex workers register their permanent residency. The identification of a sex worker who has been reformed or not relatively difficult for local authorities at the commune level due to mobility of this group is very high, mainly working and practicing in other places. Therefore, it is difficult to verify the identity of the subject. (3) Difficulties stem from the condition of "legal residence and stable living in the locality where the loan is being borrowed" because it is difficult to verify the living conditions of the sex workers. This is because most of them tend to move and work in different places, other provinces and do not operate at their residence. In addition, local authorities in the place where the permanent residence of sex workers are not able to accurately capture the work done by sex workers from other areas.

These factors are one of the main reasons leading to the implementation of Decision 29 and many provinces (15 pilot provinces) have not implemented preferential credit policy towards reformed sex workers.

In addition to Decision 29, some localities have taken the initiative in setting up loan support programs for sex workers, but the size and limits of such loans are limited, such as Ho Chi Minh City and QuangNinh… (The Department of Social Evils prevention is the unit responsible, the budget from the provincial budget) with a loan of 2-5 million per person with a loan term of 1 year. However, most sex workers are unable to repay on time or are unable to repay due to various reasons[2]. In addition, administrative procedures and finalization are also problems that cause difficulties in disbursement of these programs in localities when the loan source must be converted into objects for borrowers in form of a transfer to an intermediary providing the item.

In addition to the preferential credit program for sex workers in accordance with Decision 29, the Government also has other preferential credit policies for different groups and sex workers if they belong to one of the categories, they also receive preferential loans such as preferential credit programs for poor households, ethnic minority households and households in extremely difficult socio-economic regions.

* Health care support policy

Towards the goal of preventing and reducing risks for sex workers as well as implementing the program of action to prevent prostitution, the Prime Minister approved the Decision No. 679 / QD-TTg dated on October 10, 2011 for the action program, prostitution prevention in the period 2011-2015. On the basis of this support, providing medical assistance and health care services for sex workers to intervene in the program, HIV examination and treatment and sexually transmitted diseases, reducing the vulnerability during the process of prostitution.

In addition, in order to promote the role and participation of social partners and communities in the prevention and control of prostitution, provinces and cities have mobilized local budgets and support from international organizations to promote a wide range of interventions for the care of high-risk groups such as sex workers, injecting drug users... through a network of clubs / peer groups:Communication on HIV / AIDS prevention and control; Distributing harmless items such as condoms and syringes; Sending sex workers to use sexually transmitted infections treatment services, HIV testing and treatment services, and free treatment with ARV. It can be said that this is one of the important policies received the attention of not only the Government to intervene, prevent and reduce harm but also receive much attention of prostitutes themselves to protect their own health as well as others.

However, the current policy of health care support for sex workers is focused only on groups such as sex workers who participate in club / peer groups; sex workers who have management records; sex workers are approached and introduced by program collaborators; sex workers who received introduction of the service from peers[3]. Most of the other groups of sex workers, such as practicing in establishments, restaurants, karaoke, massage ... have not accessed to these health care support policies.

* Legal aid policy

Legal aid is the provision of free legal services to legal aid recipients to help them protect their legitimate rights and interests, raise their legal knowledge, sense of respect and observance of law, contribute to the dissemination and education of law, the protection of justice, the assurance of social justice, the prevention and limitation of disputes and breaches of law. The State shall play a key role in implementing and organizing the implementation of legal aid while encouraging and creating conditions for law-practicingorganizations as well as lawyers, agencies, organizations and individuals, other people involved in the implementation, contribution and support of legal aid activities.

Due to the large change in the management of sex workers, the need for legal aid from sex workers is high[4]. This is also one of the legitimate needs of sex workers to obtain the necessary information related to their rights and obligations.

The subjects of the Law on Legal Aid are increasingly expanded, meeting the needs of information capture of people and communities. According to Article 10 of the Law on Legal Aid 2006, only "the poor; revolutionary devotees; lonely old people, disabled people and helpless children; Ethnic minorities permanently residing in areas with extremely difficult socio-economic conditions"to receive legal aid. This is invisible to the legal beneficiaries of the law, thus limiting access to the policy of sex workers in case they need legal assistance on their rights and obligations.

However, in 2017 the National Assembly promulgated Law No. 11/2017 / QH14 on Legal Aid. Accordingly, beneficiaries of this law have increased from 03 groups to 07 groups. Target groups of this Law include:

1. Revolutionary devotees

2. Poor people.

3. Children.

4. Ethnic minority people reside in areas with extremely difficult socio-economic conditions.

5. People accused aged between full 16 and under 18

6. The accused belong to near-poor households.

7. People who fall into one of the following financial difficulties:

a) Natural parents, spouses, children of martyr and people taking care of martyr when they were a child.

b) Persons infected with Agent Orange;

c) Elderly people;

d) Persons with disabilities;

e) Persons aged between full 16 and under 18 who are victims of criminal cases;

f) Victims in domestic violence cases;

g) Victims of human trafficking according to the Law on Prevention and Fight against human trafficking;

h) HIV infected people.

It can be seen that the groups mentioned in points g and h of paragraph 7 of Article 7 are relatively related to the group of sex workers. This is also an opportunity for sex workers to get better access to legal aid information. However, Item 1, Article 9 of this Law requires "Provision of legal documents". This can be considered as one of the difficulties for sex workers when there is a need to capture legal information.

4.      Orientation to improve the social support policies for sex workers

v General comment

-         For policy to support vocational training and job creation

Many sex workers themselves do not actively learn information about vocational training programs as well as job creation or they know the information but do not meet the requirements of recruitment or hesitate to do the administrative procedures[5]. Therefore, most of the sex workers do not attend monthly job fairs in localities to find out about their employment opportunities.

The selection of vocational training or post-vocational training for sex workers is also a challenge, especially for older people who do not meet their health and work skills requirements. Meanwhile, it is difficult for young people to attract their participation because of the time required for apprenticeship, income from new jobs is not guaranteed to be higher than their current jobs.

There is no law on specific vocational training and job creation to sex workers in the community, so it is necessary to study policies to support vocational training for sex workers. The occupation of the training program must be appropriate to the characteristics of the needs, health and skills; Provide vocational training support and job placement so that they can be assured of their studies and ensure their employment outcomes. In addition, enhancing extensive propaganda, information on vocational training programs as well as referrals to sex workers.

-         For loan support policy:

Most sex workers find it difficult to access loans mainly due to complicated application procedures and conditions, and inadequate borrowing, which is not enough for them to invest in earning long-term stable income and help them get rid of prostitution[6].

According to the regulations of the Social Policy Bank, prostitutes should provide written confirmation of the no-sex work[7] of the President of the commune People's Committee or the head of one of the socio- or the head of the club, the head of the group or the head of the network established by socio-political organizations or social organizations.In practice, it is difficult for sex workers to obtain confirmation from the relevant organizations / authorities due to the lack of concrete evidence that the applicant can confirm they are no longer involved in prostitution. In addition, clubs, team leaders, network heads established by socio-political organizations or social organizations do not have the legal status to confirm the verifiable sex worker claim.

Therefore, in the next phase, it is necessary to reconsider the procedures for disbursement and preferential loans so that this policy can be applied better in practice. This means that the administrative procedures, loan conditions need to be more flexible, so that sex workers can meet the conditions of support.

-         For health care support policy

Due to the synchronous implementation between the sectors, especially the health sector and the labor sector, the number of sex workers can access policies to support health care is quite high. Funding for health-care-related activities is a source for HIV / AIDS prevention and control among vulnerable groups of the HIV / AIDS program. There is no separate funding for sex workers. However, the majority of people who access to preventive health services and periodic health checks are sex workers participating in peer-to-peer services; Prostitution and street sex workers are approached and introduced by program collaborators. Therefore, in order to make the policy more effective, more involvement of relevant agencies (budget support) and different groups of sex workers should be attracted in order to enhance the capacity to prevent disease risk, minimize health risks for society and themselves.

-         For legal support policies

Although there are no specific regulations on legal aid policies for sex workers, local authorities always take the initiative in assisting them when they need legal advice and assistance on personal record and issues related to administrative sanctions in the field of prostitution prevention and combat. This is also one of the important measures for sex workers to better understand the policies and laws of the State thereby protecting their own rights and interests.

However, due to psychological afraid to contact as well as do not want to disclose the violent acts of the sex shoppers as well as not fully understand the law provisions so the capacity to access legal support policy of sex sellers is quite low; The main focus is on sex workers who currently live in clubs and peer groups that can capture and receive legal information support.

v Orientation to improve social support policies for sex workers

On the practical requirements of prostitution prevention and control and the socio-economic context in the coming years, the direction of research and development of legal policies on sex work in Vietnam sets priorities: preventive measures; establishing the legal framework for the implementation of harm reduction interventions in prostitution prevention and combat; prevention of gender-based violence against sex workers. At the same time, building an appropriate and friendly social service system, creating conditions for prostitutes to easily access and use when they need to change their jobs or change their lives.

In addition, the current legal framework on prostitution in Vietnam has revealed some inconsistencies with reality; Current regulations do not ensure consistency in the legal system. There is no legal basis for the implementation of new solutions, measures and approaches in the management of prostitution; not specific to the conditions to ensure the implementation of measures to prevent prostitution; There are no policies and regulations for appropriate support services for sex workers when they need to change jobs or change their lives.

Therefore, it is necessary to develop the Law on Prostitution Prevention and Control as the basis for the implementation of measures and solutions to manage prostitution in line with current practice, contributing to the protection of prostitution. Ensuring social order and safety, and well implementing social protection policies; Ensuring the uniformity of the legal system, especially in the related fields such as prevention and combating of human trafficking, drug and HIV / AIDS prevention and control.

Therefore, the improvement of policies, intervention programs and social support for sex workers should be ensured in the following direction:

        - Perfecting the system of legal documents in the direction of ensuring respect for human rights and attaching importance to social solutions aimed at reducing the harm caused by prostitution to sex workers and social workers themselves, contributing to the stability and development of the country. Strengthening the direction, administration and supervision of the implementation of sex work prevention policies and intervention programs.

        - Promoting the integration and implementation of existing policies on support services for sex workers on the basis of respect for the rights, legitimate interests and non-discrimination and discrimination against sex workers. It is difficult to formulate a specific policy for specific target groups, but it is imperative to utilize and integrate them into existing policy programs. Specifically:

        + Integrating with vocational training policies for rural labor, the national target program for employment, which may include expanded guidelines for reformed sex workers seeking desirable jobs.

        + Integrating credit programs for sex workers in the State's loan assistance programs disbursed through local associations / organizations such as the program of borrowing capital of the youth and women at commune level ... Promulgation of guidelines for the implementation of Decision 29 / QD-TTg on the national scale will be issued soon in the direction of adjusting the procedural requirements for the group of sex workers, especially conditions of confirming beneficiaries.

        + Integrating the medical examination and treatment preferences for this target group in the national target programs on HIV / AIDS prevention and control, infected diseases and social diseases. Assisting them with terms and conditions of participating in the voluntary health insurance scheme that should not be mandatory for household health insurance.

- Developing a mechanism for administrative support and human security in order to minimize risks from administrative difficulties (household registration and residence procedures, accompanied by identity cards) for the target groups which are reformed sex workers in the area of residence. The majority of them have poor living conditions and are less secure and become the most vulnerable individuals or families in the community.

- Implementing sustainable poverty alleviation programs through job orientation, vocational training, job creation, production development loans,… in combination with communication to raise awareness among risky to minimize the factors that lead to the practice of sex workers.

- Developing and pilot community support models, step by step set up a package support system (including services such as health care, livelihood support, loans, vocational guidance, job creation, legal aid, harm reduction intervention, reduction of HIV / AIDS, reduction of violence, human rights, etc.) in order to create favorable conditions for sex workers to integrate into sustainable community.


M.A Le NguBinh

M.A Trieu Thi Phuong




1. The Sub-Department of HIV / AIDS Prevention in Ho Chi Minh City, report on "Legal Support Services and Situation of Gender Violence against Female Sex Workers in Ho Chi Minh City".

2. Law on Legal Aid 2006, 2017.

3. Decree No. 135/2004 / ND-CP regulating the regime of application of measure of sending to medical treatment establishments and organization and operation of medical treatment establishments under the Ordinance on Handling of Administrative Violations and applicable regimes. For adolescents, people voluntarily enter the medical institution

4. Resolution No. 24/2012 / QH13 on enforcement of the law on handling administrative violations

5. The Ordinance on Prostitution Prevention and Fight dated 17 March 2003

6. Decision No. 679 / QD-TTg dated 10 May 2011 on the program of Prostitution Prevention and Fight 2011-2015

7. Decision No. 29/2014 / QD-TTg on credit for HIV infected households and people, post-detoxification drug users, opiate substitutes, and prostitutes, reformed sex workers.

8. Decision No. 361 / QD-TTg dated 7 March 2016 of the Prime Minister approving the program on prostitution prevention and control for the period 2016-2020

9. Institute of Labor Science and Social Affairs, (2017), Assessment of access to social support services by sex workers.

[1]The program on prevention and combat of prostitution in the period 2016-2020 is issued together with Decision No. 361 / QD-TTg dated on March 7, 2016 by the Prime Minister.

[2]Institute of Labor Science and Social Affairs (2017), Assessment of access to social support services by sex workers

[3]Institute of Labor Science and Social Affairs (2017), Assessment of access to social support services by sex workers

[4] Sub-Department of HIV / AIDS Prevention and Control, Ho Chi Minh City Sub-Department of Poverty Reduction, Report on Legal Aid and Situation of Domestic Violence against Female Sex Workers in HCMC - Situation and Solutions "

[5]Institute of Labor Science and Social Affairs (2017), Assessment of access to social support services by sex workers

[6]Institute of Labor Science and Social Affairs (2017), Assessment of access to social support services by sex workers

[7]Guideline No. 3337 / NHCS-TDSV dated 30/09/2014 of the Social Policy Bank implementing Decision 29/2014 / QD-TTg on credit for HIV infected households and people, post-detoxification drug users, drug treatment with substitute drugs, reformed sex workers