By Chong Chee Kin and Sujin Thomas
Geylang residents are moving to reclaim the night.
Fed up with prostitutes spilling over from the traditional red-light area and plying their trade in just about every dimly lit alley in the neighbourhood, the residents are taking to the streets themselves.
Their plan has been to light up the streets, throw some parties and stage community events to deny prostitutes the space to operate and claim back territory.
The latest salvo in the “turf war" came last night, when the Member of Parliament for the area, Dr Fatimah Lateef, lit up a 300m stretch of alleyway between Lorong 34 and 36, where streetwalkers are known to roam.
This follows a similar light-up last November in the backlanes of Lorong 24 and 24A.
There is more to come: Additional street lamps will be put up in both the odd- and even-numbered lanes from Lorong 20 to Lorong 44, although exact locations have yet to be announced.
The moves are part of a “ring-fencing" strategy led by Dr Fatimah to address concerns by residents that streetwalkers are moving out of their traditional space – the even-numbered lorongs between 16 and 24 where they ply their trade – to residential areas.
Earlier this year, National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan gave Parliament an account of how the strategy to keep prostitutes in their space works.
Police conduct regular checks in areas bounding the the red-light district, and impose strict licensing conditions on massage parlours and entertainment outlets.
He pointed out that while there had not been “any serious problems" with these outlets, the police will continue to keep an eye on their activities.
“Police will not hesitate to suspend or revoke the licences of errant operators," he said.
Dr Fatimah said tackling vice in Geylang was challenging, but stressed that there are “creative"ways to deal with the problem, right down to pruning trees that line the streets so they would not appear so dark.
“We try to have events which hopefully will displace (the women),?she said, pointing to the example of a clan association’s party on one such occasion which included a lion dance performance.
She added that residents in the Lorong 20 to Lorong 44 area faced other problems too.
“There are other problems as well because of the popularity of the area. For example, illegal parking, noise from the pubs and other entertainment outlets can cause annoyance to the residents as well," she said.
Stressing the need to “contain?the streetwalker problem, Dr Fatimah said: “I am quite realistic. I know we will not be able to get down to zero overnight or in a few weeks...What I want to do is contain the problem so that it doesn’t get rampant and doesn’t get into the residential areas."
Still, she said recent moves to address the problem are showing some results: Residents have told her they have seen much improvement in their areas.
Madam Tan Sai, 70, who lives in Lorong 34, is one who says the situation is better now, and is especially grateful for the new lighting.
“You don’t have to be scared. Without the lights, you always have to look behind you," she said.
Prostitution is not an offence under Singapore laws, but soliciting is.
Those convicted of soliciting face a fine up to $1,000. Repeat offenders can be fined up to $2,000 and jailed up to six months.
This story first appeared in The Straits Times on April 19, 2008.