Often hidden, at night, close to a corner, many young sex workers spend time finding their clients on the streets of Vientiane, the capital of Laos. A few people arrive to set a small make-up workshop where sex workers can come and relax, have a chat and fix their make-up.
The youngest are around 15 years old, but most are in their early twenties. Most of them are migrants, coming from different provinces and different ethnic groups. They tried their luck in Vientiane with a complex mix of aspirations: benefiting from the city’s increasing wealth and opportunities, freedom from parental oversight, the excitement of city life, and uncertainty of income and poverty in their local communities…
They undertake dangerous street work such as scavenging, begging and sex work. As they are in an entirely new situation and a place they don’t know, they are vulnerable to many kinds of abuse. “For sex workers, violence is the norm. Sexual harassment, verbal abuse, rape, physical violence… All of these occur regularly in prostitution,” says Vithanya Noonan, AEA Laos director.
© Peuan Mit
In accordance with articles 32, 34, 36 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) that provides protection against economic, sexual and all other forms of exploitation, and the child’s right to physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration, AEA Laos is currently working with Peuan Mit and the government to create outreach activities targeting the key-affected populations, including sex workers and drug users.
Sex workers are an extremely challenging group to work with because of their fear of discrimination and criminal prosecution. Building relationships and trust with them is a very delicate process, it takes time. ”By providing make up and nail painting, we can engage and build trust with them. Up until now the strategy is working well,” adds Vithanya Noonan. The outreach team is now engaging with 20 male and 5 female sex workers 2 nights a week in downtown Vientiane.
Education saves lives
“They are exposed to danger,” explains Vithanya Noonan. “The make-up workshop is a safe place. It is also an important opportunity to provide other services such as life skills, health education (including sexual health) and drug education.”
By providing a range of comprehensive services and interlinked programs, AEA Laos and Peuan Mit aim at assisting them to effectively improve their lives. After getting to know them, the team is planning to offer counselling on goal-setting and life planning. Some of them might find other employment through the project. The vocational training programme is designed to be attractive for many as it covers everything: skills training, accommodation, food, clothes and any other support they may need.
AEA Laos and Peuan Mit are currently working with up to 1,900 children, youth and families per year. The programme integrates a comprehensive and preventative approach, focusing on child protection and the promotion of child rights reaching out to all marginalized and vulnerable children and youth in the poor communities of Vientiane.