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Prostitution in Myanmar

Prostitution in Myanmar (also known as Burma) is illegal,[1] but widespread.[2] Prostitution is a major social issue that particularly affects women and children. UNAIDS estimate there to be 66,000 prostitutes in the country.[3]

Women are often lured into prostitution with the promise of legitimate jobs, substantially higher pay, and because their low educational levels makes it difficult for them to find jobs elsewhere. In many instances, such women come from remote regions.[4]

Current situation

In Yangon (Rangoon), prostitution often occurs in hotels that also operate as brothels. The recent appearance of massage parlours began in 1995, with ethnic minority groups such as the Wa running such businesses in particular.[5] Nightclubs in Yangon are also frequented by prostitutes who work independently.[6] Throughout the country, the sex industry generally operates out of restaurants, brothels posing as guesthouses, and nightclubs.[7] Since Cyclone Nargis hit in May 2008, the number of prostitutes in Yangon has increased significantly, thus lowering prices for sexual services.

Mandalay has many prostitutes working in massage parlours, KTV lounges, stage shows and on the streets.[8]

A red-light district has also emerged in Naypyidaw, Burma's new national capital, with brothels primarily disguised as beauty parlors and massage salons that attract mainly businessmen and military personnel.[9] Approximately 70 brothels, mostly in the form of tents and bamboo huts, operate a cheap red light zone on a 30-mile stretch of highway to Naypyidaw.[9]

In all of Southeast Asia Burma is by far the cheapest when securing the services of a prostitute eclipsing even the choice and price in Laos.[10]

Sex workers and NGOs report law enforcement to be abusive, violent and corrupt.[11][12]


Prostitutes in Burma are called by a number of different terms. They are called ပြည့်တံဆာ (lit. "fulfilling the rod's hunger") and အပြာမယ် (lit. "blue mistress", with "blue" being a reference to pornography). In slang usage, ကြက်မ ("chicken"), ဖါမ ("female pimp"), နတ်သမီး ("female nat"), and ညမွှေးပန်း ("fragrant flowers of the night") are also used.[10]

Legal situation

Prostitution is illegal.[11] Under the Suppression of Prostitution Act, enacted in 1949, the act of soliciting or seducing in public is illegal, as is forcing or enticing women into prostitution or owning brothels.[13] The Act also criminalises making financial gain from prostitution, including the sex worker's own earnings.[11]

Condoms were previously used as evidence of prostitution but an administrative order was issued in 2011 to prevent condoms being used as evidence.[14] This was subsequently incorporated in section 271 of the Penal Code.[11]

The Penal Code guarantees protection of female children from sexual abuse, with any persons found having sexual intercourse with a girl of under 14 years (with or without consent) charged with rape. The Child Law, enacted in 1993, raised the age of consensual sex to 16 and made prostitution of children illegal. It is an offence to knowingly allow a girl younger than sixteen years of age under one's guardianship to engage in prostitution. There is no obvious corresponding offence for boys. The Child Law also makes it a punishable offence to use children in the creation of pornographic materials.[15]

Sex workers are often placed in detention centres prior to being charged. Work, such as sewing clothes, is compulsory in the compulsory. Some are subsequently released without charge.[12]

In 2013, MP Daw Sandar Min called for prostitution to be decriminalised but this was rejected by the government.[8]

Currently (2018), the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement are working on amendments to the law in order to protect sex workers.[16]


Konbaung dynasty

Prostitution was banned in 1785, during the reign of King Bodawpaya in the early Konbaung dynasty period.[17]

When King Mindon Min founded Mandalay in the 1850s, a separate administrative quarter for prostitutes was included.[8]

British rule

From the British occupation until 1937, Burma was part of colonial India.[18]

The British sought to regulate prostitution as a matter of accepting a necessary evil.[19] The Cantonment Acts regulated and structured prostitution in the British military bases. The structuring features of the Cantonment Acts provided for about twelve to fifteen Indian women for each regiment of British soldiers. Each regiment contained about a thousand soldiers. These women were kept in brothels called chaklas. They were licensed by military officials and were allowed to consort with soldiers only.[20] Most of the women came from poor families and had no other opportunities for social or economic independence. The structural inequalities that pushed women into prostitution were often enforced by the colonial governments.[20]

Furthermore, the Cantonment Act of 1864 provided for the establishment and extension of hospitals in cantonments.[21] Women working in chaklas were often required to undergo medical examinations once a week, in order to examine them for traces of venereal diseases.[20] Prostitutes were often confined against their wills in these prison hospitals, especially if they were found to have a venereal disease.[20] The Cantonment Act of 1864, originally meant for military bases, was eventually extended to the Presidencies and Provinces of British India.[22] However, when military personnel were increasingly struck down by venereal diseases, more regulations were demanded. This eventually led to the Indian Contagious Disease Acts.

The Contagious Disease Acts sought to prevent venereal diseases in military personnel through several regulations. The Acts required the registration of women engaged in prostitution. These women were often required to carry a license in the form of a card. Furthermore, it mandated the regular medical examination of female prostitutes.[23] If any of these women were found to be infected during an examination, they were required to undergo in-patient treatment. If they refused such treatment, they could be penalized by imprisonment. Once cured of their diseases, they were released. None of these measures was applied to infected men.[23] The Acts only targeted female prostitutes, as they were the only people subject to licensing and medical examinations.

The Great Depression in the 1930s caused unprecedented unemployment and displacement in British Burma, forcing many women to serve clients, mainly British troops and Indian sepoys.[24] According to some accounts, Burma had the largest thriving prostitution industry in British India because of the economic crisis.[24]


Burma has the second highest HIV prevalence rate in Asia, after Thailand.[25] Sex workers are particularly at risk. The criminal nature of sex work in Burma, as it is prohibited by the 1949 Suppression of Prostitution Act, also contributes to the ineffectiveness of reaching out to sex workers in Myanmar with regard to HIV/AIDS awareness and condom usage.[26] In 2005 in Yangon, there were over 100 brothels and up to 10,000 sex workers, mostly of the Bamar ethnic group, with between 70-90 percent having a history of sexually transmitted infections and less than 25 percent having been tested for HIV.[26] An anecdotal study at that time found that nearly half of sex workers in Yangon had HIV/AIDS.[26]

Various campaigns have taken place by the government, NGO and international organisation to raise awareness of HIV, to give greater access to healthcare and improve treatment of those infected. As a result, the national adult prevalence rate has fallen to 0.4%[27] The prevalence rate amongst sex workers has also fallen: 18.4% in 2008,[14] 7.1% in 2012[14] and 5.4% in 2016.[28] Condom use amongst sex worker has increased to over 80%.[29]

Sex trafficking

Myanmar is a source country for women and children subjected to sex trafficking, both in Myanmar and abroad. It is also increasingly a destination and transit country for foreign victims, including women and girls from India. Some Myanma women, and children who migrate for work abroad, particularly to Thailand and China, as well as other countries in Asia, the Middle East, and the United States, are subjected sex trafficking. Myanma women are increasingly transported to China and subjected to sex trafficking; Myanma government officials are occasionally complicit in this form of trafficking, as well as in the facilitation of the smuggling and exploitation of Rohingya migrants.[30]

Myanmar is a major source of prostitutes (an estimate of 25,000–30,000) in Thailand, with the majority of women trafficked taken to Ranong, bordering south Myanmar, and Mae Sai, at the eastern tip of Myanmar.[31][32] Myanmar sex workers also operate in Yunnan, China, particularly the border town of Ruili.[33] The majority of Burmese prostitutes in Thailand are from ethnic minorities.[32] Sixty percent of Burmese prostitutes are under 18 years of age.[34]

The United States Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons ranks Myanmar as a 'Tier 3' country.[30]

See also


  1. ^ "Burma". Archived from the original on 26 February 2009. Retrieved 16 January 2018.
  2. ^ Liebetrau, Eric. "BOOK REVIEW: The Burma Chronicles". Charleston City Paper. Retrieved 24 July 2018.
  3. ^ "Sex workers: Population size estimate - Number, 2016". UNAIDS. Archived from the original on 4 June 2019. Retrieved 21 July 2018.
  4. ^ Chelala, Cesar. "Women, prostitution, and AIDS". THE STATE OF WOMEN AND CHILDREN'S HEALTH. Archived from the original on 28 March 2007. Retrieved 11 January 2007.
  5. ^ Aung Zaw (1 February 2001). "No Sex Please—We're Burmese". The Irrawaddy. Retrieved 11 January 2007.
  6. ^ O'Connell, Chris (8 October 2003). "Burma à la Mode". The Irrawaddy. Retrieved 11 January 2007.
  7. ^ Htet Aung (September 2008). "Selling Safer Sex in Conservative Burma". The Irrawaddy. Retrieved 2 July 2008.
  8. ^ a b c Kyaw, Phyo Wai (11 August 2013). "Sex workers struggle in Mandalay". The Myanmar Times.
  9. ^ a b "Sex and the Capital City". Irrawaddy. 27 August 2010. Archived from the original on 1 September 2010. Retrieved 3 April 2018.
  10. ^ a b Aung Htet Wine (July 2008). "Sex and the (Burmese) City". The Irrawaddy. Retrieved 11 July 2008.
  11. ^ a b c d "Sex Work Law - Countries". Sexuality, Poverty and Law. Retrieved 24 July 2018.
  12. ^ a b Mudditt, Jessica (26 January 2014). "Hidden Identities – The Policing Of Sex Work In Myanmar". Retrieved 24 July 2018.
  13. ^ "Current Legal Framework: Prostitution in Myanmar (Burma)". 7 February 2015. Retrieved 24 July 2018.
  14. ^ a b c "Push to decriminalize sex work, but stigma remains". IRIN (in French). 14 January 2014. Retrieved 24 July 2018.
  15. ^ "Burma - Government laws". Archived from the original on 22 June 2006. Retrieved 11 January 2007.
  16. ^ HLaing, Thazin (23 January 2018). "Lawmakers Work to Amend the Suppression of Prostitution Act". The Irrawaddy. Retrieved 24 July 2018.
  17. ^ Thant Myint-U (2001). The Making of Modern Burma. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-79914-0.
  18. ^ Imperial Gazetteer of India vol. IV (1908) pp. 104–125
  19. ^ Tambe, Ashwini (19 February 2005). "The Elusive Ingenue:A transnational Feminist Analysis of European Prostitution in Colonial Bombay". Gender and Society: 160–79. doi:10.1177/0891243204272781. S2CID 144250345.
  20. ^ a b c d Bhandari, Sudhanshu (19 June 2010). "Prostitution in Colonial India". Mainstream Weekly. XLVIII (26). Retrieved 13 October 2012.
  21. ^ Legg, Stephen (2009). "Governing Prostitution in Colonial Delhi: From Cantonment Regulations to International Hygiene" (PDF). Social History. 34 (4): 448–67. doi:10.1080/03071020903257018. S2CID 145288117.
  22. ^ Levine, Philippa (1996). "Rereading the 1890s: Venereal Disease as "Constitutional Crisis"". The Journal of Asian Studies. 55 (3): 585–612. doi:10.2307/2646447. JSTOR 2646447. S2CID 153946917.
  23. ^ a b Pivar, David (1981). "The Military, Prostitution, and Colonial Peoples: India and the Philippines, 1885-1917". The Journal of Sex Research. 17 (3): 256–69. doi:10.1080/00224498109551119. PMID 28135962.
  24. ^ a b Ikeya, Chie (2008). "The Modern Burmese Woman and the Politics of Fashion in Colonial Burma". The Journal of Asian Studies. 67 (4): 1301. doi:10.1017/S0021911808001782. S2CID 145697944.
  25. ^ "CIA world factbook - country comparison". Archived from the original on 10 June 2009.
  26. ^ a b c Talikowski, Luke; Sue Gillieatt (2005). "Female Sex Work in Yangon" (PDF). Sexual Health. 2 (3): 193–202. doi:10.1071/SH04043. PMID 16335547. Archived from the original (PDF) on 1 May 2011. Retrieved 7 April 2009.
  27. ^ "Myanmar 2017 Country Factsheet". Retrieved 24 July 2018.
  28. ^ "HIV prevalence amongst sex workers". UNAIDS. 2016. Archived from the original on 22 July 2018. Retrieved 22 July 2018.
  29. ^ "Condom use among sex workers - Percent, 2016". UNAIDS. Archived from the original on 22 July 2018. Retrieved 22 July 2018.
  30. ^ a b "Burma 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report". U.S. Department of State. Archived from the original on 25 July 2018. Retrieved 24 July 2018.Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  31. ^ Barry, Kathleen (July 1996). The Prostitution of Sexuality. NYU Press. ISBN 978-0-8147-1277-1.
  32. ^ a b "WOMEN". Burma: Country in Crisis. Soros. October 2005. Archived from the original on 19 March 2007. Retrieved 11 January 2007.
  33. ^ Kyaw Zwa Moe (January 2005). "Yunnan's Sin City". The Irrawaddy. Retrieved 2 July 2008.
  34. ^ Hughes, Donna M. "Burma/Myanmar". Factbook on Global Sexual Exploitation. University of Rhode Island. Archived from the original on 1 January 2007. Retrieved 11 January 2007.
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Prostitution in Myanmar
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