Raids aim to curb proliferation of vices in tourist district, police say.
In a pre-dawn swoop on Thursday, police in Ho Chi Minh City arrested dozens of suspected drug users and female sex workers at a downtown restaurant.
Hundreds of police personnel blockaded part of Ton That Tung Street in District 1 from both ends before raiding the Ruby Restaurant, a notorious overnight hangout.
The restaurant employees were prevented from turning on the alarm system, and dozens of waitresses in skimpy clothing were caught red-handed ‘playing’ with drunk customers.
The suspected drug users and waitresses were taken to the police station for drug tests.
Police said they have fined the restaurant for operating an unlicensed karaoke business, keeping the place open late, offering sex services and selling fake alcoholic drinks, but did not specify the amounts.
At the same time, a group of officers raided a hotel on Bui Thi Xuan Street in District 1 and caught two women offering sex services to guests.
The women admitted to the police that they were sent to the hotel to serve for drunk customers for up to VND4 million ($175.4) per session. The restaurant manager, Pham Huu Sinh, 40, was also arrested for arranging sex services for customers.
Police said the raids were part of an operation to tighten control over several kids of commercial sex services offered by many restaurants and bars in the tourist district.
Vietnam is considering lifting its night curfew to 2 a.m., to encourage tourists to stay more and spend more.
But most bars and nightclubs in Saigon, the country’s largest city, are only allowed to serve guests until midnight.
According to statistics compiled by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, Saigon has nearly 22,000 registered drug users, the highest in the country at nearly 10 percent of the country’s total.
Drug use is banned in Vietnam, and producing and dealing in drugs are criminal offenses.
Around 3,000 people are believed to be sex workers in Saigon, according to official data.
Gambling and prostitution have long been officially forbidden vices in Vietnam, but authorities have adopted a more lax attitude towards them in recent years.
In 2013, Vietnam abolished compulsory rehabilitation for sex workers in favor of fines no higher than $100.
The move 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.
Some 70 countries in the world have legalized prostitution outright, including Australia and Germany.
According to a report by the United Nations Development Program, sex work has been decriminalized in many Southeast Asian countries as police turn their focus on arresting pimps and brothel owners instead of the sex workers themselves.
They also say that even though Vietnam has declared a “war on prostitution,” sex work has continued to thrive.
More than two years ago, sociologists in Saigon proposed that the government establish regulated red-light districts in order to root out some of the worst results of the trade, such as sex slave trafficking.
But the proposal eventually died out under strong opposition from a mindset wherein prostitution is a symbol of moral decadence.
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