File photo - Ethnic Vietnamese sex workers wait for clients in a popular red light area in Phnom Penh, September 3, 2001.

Vietnam will free about 900 sex workers in 2013 from compulsory rehabilitation centres across the country, state media reported on Thursday.

The prostitutes will be able to return home when a newly amended administrative law comes into effect at the start of July 2013, according to the Thanh Nien newspaper.

“This is a big change of view on how to deal with prostitution,” Le Duc Hien, deputy head of the government's department for social vices prevention, was quoted as saying.

“However, it does not mean we officially recognise prostitution,” Hien added.

Since July this year, sex workers have no longer been sent to compulsory rehabilitation centres when picked up by the authorities, but were fined up to five million dong ($240 dollars) instead, Thanh Nien said.

Communist Vietnam has an estimated 30 000 sex workers, mostly in major cities.

Under the amended law, drug addicts will continue to be sent to detoxification centres.

Vietnam has maintained compulsory rehabilitation centres for drug users and sex workers for years despite international calls for their closure.

A report by US-based Human Rights Watch released a year ago said drug users were made to perform forced labour. It said the centres failed to provide appropriate treatment and were rife with physical abuse.

Hanoi accused the rights watchdog of distorting the facts and described the facilities as a “humane” way to help people kick their drug addiction and prepare to return to society. - AFP