Prostitution in Myanmar (also known as Burma) is illegal. Prostitution is a major social issue that particularly affects women and children.
Burma 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 Burma, and Mae Sai, at the eastern tip of Burma. Burmese sex workers also operate in Yunnan, China, particularly the border town of Ruili. The majority of Burmese prostitutes in Thailand are from ethnic minorities. Sixty percent of Burmese prostitutes are under 18 years of age. Burma is also a source country of sex workers and forced labourers in China, Bangladesh, Taiwan, India, Malaysia, Korea, Macau, and Japan. Internal trafficking of women for the purpose of prostitution occurs from rural villages to urban centres, military camps, border towns, and fishing villages.
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.
In Yangon, 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. Nightclubs in Yangon are also frequented by prostitutes who work independently. Throughout the country, the sex industry generally operates out of restaurants, brothels posing as guesthouses, and nightclubs.
Since Cyclone Nargis hit in May 2008, the number of prostitutes in Yangon has increased significantly, thus lowering prices for sexual services. 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. 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. 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.
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.
Prostitution is illegal.
Prostitution was banned in 1785, during the early Konbaung dynasty period.
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. 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 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.
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. According to some accounts, Burma had the largest thriving prostitution industry in British India because of the economic crisis.
Burma has the third highest HIV prevalence rate in Asia, after Cambodia and Thailand. Sex workers are particularly at risk, with 32 percent infected with the disease. 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 Burma with regard to HIV/AIDS awareness and condom usage. In Yangon, there are 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. An anecdotal study found that nearly half of sex workers in Yangon have HIV/AIDS.