In Vietnam, debate underway over whether sex buyers should be named and shamed

A proposal that the names of sex buyers should be revealed has triggered an intense debate in Vietnam

This file photo shows sex workers being detained after a police swoop on a large prostitution ring in the central city of Da Nang.

A debate has broken out over a recent proposal by the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs that the names of sex buyers should be revealed as a measure to deter them from resorting to sex services still considered illegal in Vietnam.

The ministry has also suggested that their buying sex should be informed to the places where sex buyers are working and the authorities in the localities where they are living.

The ministry said that the current fines, from VND500,000 (US$22.2) to VND10 million ($440), applied to sex buyers are still low and thus cannot prevent them from repeating their acts.

Therefore, publicizing the names of sex buyers should be considered an official administrative punishment inflicted on them, with a view to driving back prostitution, the ministry said.

Sex work is unlawful and regarded as a social evil in Vietnam.

Advocacy vs. opposition

Numerous readers of Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper have expressed their consent to the publication of sex buyers’ names, saying that “once having their names publicized, sex buyers would not have the guts to come to prostitutes again.”

Pham Thi Thuy, a sociologist, also supported the proposal.

“This is the best way to drive back prostitution that is affecting public health and familial happiness. Under certain circumstances, only strong measures can help steer sex buyers away from sex services,” Thuy said.

However, the biggest challenge to the proposal is how to implement it effectively, she added. 

“Vietnamese people respect social relationships very much. They therefore can publicize the names of some sex buyers while covering up others’, depending on each rapport,” she elaborated.

There may be a situation in which sex buyers will have their names made known to the public if they are ordinary people and will have them kept in secret if they are in certain positions, the sociologist further explained.    

Meanwhile, many other Tuoi Tre readers have argued that such measures would not be helpful but they could result in consequences.

“Naming and shaming sex buyers would probably bring about an adverse effect on individuals, their families and even the entire society,” a reader said.

Instead of publicizing the names of sex buyers, many other measures should be considered, including subjecting them to public labor.

People’s names should be publicized only when they have committed criminal crimes such as drug trafficking.

“In my opinion, the publication of sex buyers’ names may lead to circumstances in which they bribe law enforcement officers so that they would not disclose their names,” Tran Le Nguyen, a reader from Ho Chi Minh City’s Go Vap District, said.

Nguyen also emphasized that the first thing to be dealt with is whether or not the acts of buying and selling sex should be banned.

Worry about law conflict

Lawyer Ha Hai, from the Ho Chi Minh City Bar Association, said that the proposal can lead to a law conflict.

“If the proposition is accepted, it will contradict the law, especially the Constitution,” lawyer Hai said.

Citing Article 21 of the 2013 Constitution, the lawyer said, “Everyone has the right to inviolability of their private life, personal and family secrets; and is entitled to protect their honor and reputation. The security of information about private life, personal or family secrets shall be guaranteed by law.”

“Some people reckon that the publication of sex buyers’ names is a lawbreaking act, but they still consider this a necessary move to combat prostitution,” Huynh Phuoc Hiep, another lawyer, said.

However, it will be a serious mistake to promulgate an unlawful regulation to curb prostitution, he noted. 

Lawyer Pham Thanh Binh remarked that sex buying or selling is an administrative violation that should not be treated criminally, and therefore the names of the sex buyers are advised not to be publicized. 

People engaging in sex buying should not be considered criminals except for cases in which they purchase sex from minors, lawyer Binh said.

He advised that lawmakers should carefully consider the possible consequences of such name publication.

“It may cause unforeseeable social consequences. There were circumstances in which people committed suicide after the names of their fathers were revealed as sex buyers,” the lawyer warned.

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