Became sex worker to pay husband’s hospital bill

by John Einar Sandvand on February 24, 2009


19 year old Srey Mom’s tragic tale illustrates some of the most pressing social problems in Cambodia:Domestic violence, poverty, poor health care, prostitution and corruption.

It all hit on her at the same time.

I met Srey Mom (not her real name) in Cambodian Center for the Protection of Children’s Rights, where she had been brought after a police raid against¬† prostitutes near one of Phnom Penh’s markets.

Srey Mom was a thin and short girl, looking younger than her given age of 19 years.

As she told her story, it struck me how she had become the victim of several of Cambodia’s most pressing social problems all at once.

Domestic violence

Srey Mom’s husband was working as a waiter in a restaurant. One day he got a call from a female cousin, urging him to come to her house immediately.¬† Her boyfriend was drunk and had started to beat her. They were having a physical fight as Srey Mom’s husband arrived at the scene. The drunk man soon found a gun which he pointed at his girlfriend. Srey Mom’s husband threw himself in between and was shot in the stomach.


As so many people in Cambodia, Srey Mom and her husband were having a hard time making ends meet. They only had his meagre income as a waiter to support themselves, which did not allow for any extra expenses beyond what was necessary to survive.

Poor health care

The health system in Cambodia is weak and for many people it is very hard to find sufficient treatment if they are ill. Most hospitals require payment, which can ruin a poor family. Srey Mom had a few savings and immediately sold the couple’s motorbike. The seriously ill husband was sent to a hospital in Vietnam for treatmen. – Alltogether I spent 3000 dollars on medical bills, she said. For some families that would be more than 2 years’ income.


Not knowing how she would pay for her husband’s hospital bills, Srey Mom decided to become a sex worker. She went to an area known for freelance prostitution close to one of Phnom Penh’s markets. Cambodia has about 50.000 prostitutes, of which about one third are below the age of 16.


By law prostitution is illegal in Cambodia. However, in practical life, as for so many other laws, this only applies to those who will not bribe the police or other officials sufficiently.  Srey Mom told me how the police regularly would raid the prostitution area. Prostitutes would then be asked for a 50 dollar bribe. If they paid, they would be released and could go on with their work, otherwise the police would bring them into custody and later send them to one of the centers taking care of former prostitutes. Srey Mom only worked as a sex worker for two weeks and said she was able to make about USD 30-40 per day. She was also arrested a few times and paid the bribes as as she was supposed to. РBut then came my unlucky day. I had no money and could not pay. So I ended up at the center, she said.

Srey Mom now is worried about her husband. He is still ill after defending his cousin against her boyfriend, but is now longer in hospital. Srey Mom realizes that their future has become much more uncertain.

Also read: Teenage scavenger died for no reason


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Cambodia: Was arrested by her own sex customers | Cambodia Tales
April 14, 2009 at 9:19 pm

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KOKO February 28, 2011 at 11:36 pm

This is Khmer's society…! a few police are villains…!


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