In nightclub raids, police near Lao capital find underage sex workers

The raid of venues along a busy highway may have only targeted smaller establishments.
By RFA Lao
2024.02.13
In nightclub raids, police near Lao capital find underage sex workers An entertainment venue in Laos is seen in this undated photo. (Citizen journalist)
Photo: RFA

Police near Vientiane found 47 sex workers – including four girls under 18 years old – during a raid of nightclubs, restaurants and karaoke bars that was prompted by complaints from local residents.

The entertainment venues in suburban Pak Ngum district must by law close at midnight but instead stay open until near dawn and have a reputation of secretly offering sex services, according to a district police officer, who like other sources in this report requested for anonymity for safety reasons

“Some of the arrested girls were students,” the officer said of the Feb. 9 raid. “They didn’t go to school and they had problems in their families. So, they worked in these venues as prostitutes.”

Laos’ criminal code states that those convicted of prostitution can face sentences of between three months and one year in prison or can be ordered to undergo “re-education” and to pay fines of between 500,000 kip (US$25) and 3 million kip (US$150).

After initial interrogations, police determined that most of the arrested women and girls were from poor, rural families from across Laos, the officer said. Police were investigating whether any human trafficking was involved.

It was unclear if those detained in the raids would face charges. It was also unknown whether any establishment owners were arrested.  

Residents have also complained of drug use and online gambling at the nightclubs and karaoke bars, in addition to all-night noise. 

The venues are located northeast of the capital along Route 13, Laos’ busiest highway.

One owner of a small karaoke bar called on authorities to also inspect the larger establishments in Pak Ngum district. Only three entertainment venues in the area are run by Laotians, he said.

“The rest belong to the Chinese,” he said. “If Lao venues stay open later than midnight, they will be fined right away or ordered to be shut down. But if Chinese venues stay open until dawn, they’ll never get fined. And it’s OK for them to provide sex service too.”

The larger nightclubs and karaoke bars are tipped off when authorities are planning an inspection or raid, an official from the district’s Propaganda and Re-education Department told Radio Free Asia.

“They hide all the prostitutes and drugs. These venues are supported by the powerful,” he said. “So the police only crack down on the small venues.”

Translated by Max Avary. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster. 

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