Poverty, prejudice drive Cambodia’s sex workers to unsafe abortions

Poverty and prejudice drive Cambodia's sex workers to unsafe abortions

Debt, discrimination and drunken clients are just some of the factors behind the recent revelation that 40% of maternal deaths among Cambodia’s sex workers were caused by abortions, experts have said.

The research, published last week in online peer-reviewed journal BioMed Central Public Health, is the first known study in the world identifying maternal deaths among female sex workers and the deaths of their children. Surveying 271 of Cambodia’s female sex workers, the study is a harsh glimpse into one of the nation’s most stigmatised industries.

Of the 32 maternal deaths detailed in the report, almost half were caused by complications resulting from abortions. A further 16% were caused by HIV, with 13% the result of unknown causes. Fewer than one in ten of those surveyed had taken their own lives while pregnant.

Nakagawa Kasumi, a gender studies researcher at Paññasastra University of Cambodia, said that high levels of debt and deep-seated institutional discrimination were preventing many sex workers from seeking appropriate medical treatment during pregnancy.

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