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June 04, 2002 05:26am
Cambodian Lawmakers Say AIDS Legislation Unfair to Women
Source: AP

(PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA) -- Female Cambodian lawmakers, aghast that legislation on AIDS prevention singles out women for special education, said Tuesday that it was promiscuous Cambodian men who needed more information about the disease.

Cambodian men are notorious for frequenting brothels, even as the country's HIV/AIDS infection rate has climbed to one of the highest in Asia.

An estimated 2.8 percent of Cambodian adults aged 15-49 have tested positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Officials estimate that some 70,000 Cambodians have died from AIDS in the past decade. The country has about 10 million people.

As the National Assembly debated draft legislation on the prevention and control of HIV and AIDS, lawmaker Ly Kim Leang challenged part of the draft that called for "special education about HIV/AIDS disease for young girls and household women."

She said it was unfair to Cambodian women who are being victimized by men's sexual behavior. "It is them, not just women, who need to have more special education," she said.

Ho Non, another female lawmaker, also said men must change their behavior, but that the overall draft law was "A timely response to the epidemic."

Last month, Cambodia's National HIV-AIDS Center said its latest survey on men's sexual behavior found that fewer men were visiting sex workers, and that those who did were using condoms more frequently.

Twenty percent of soldiers surveyed in 2001 said that they had visited a prostitute in the previous month, down from 47 percent in 1999. No survey was conducted in 2000.

Among police officers, the figure dropped to 18.5 percent from 37 percent in the same time period. For motorbike taxi drivers, it fell to 8.5 percent from 34.5 percent.

The center attributed the changes to its condom promotion campaign and increased awareness among men about the risks of having unprotected sex.

Meanwhile, opposition leader Sam Rainsy said during the debate that the infection figures were "inaccurate" because the government had failed to collect sufficient information.

The number could be much higher, he said, adding "within the next five to 10 years I believe the number of people dying of AIDS could even exceed the number of people who died during the Pol Pot regime."

Pol Pot, who died in 1998, led the Khmer Rouge. The regime ruled Cambodia from 1975-79 and is blamed for the deaths of some 1.7 million people due to disease, starvation, overwork and execution.

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