Several sex worker advocacy groups have staged a protest in front of the Taiwan Ministry of the Interior, demanding that the government
decriminalize prostitution and enact a new law to protect the right to sex among consenting adults.
Wearing face masks and red headbands with slogans that read Legalize the sex industry, protesters from the Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters (COSWAS), the Gender/Sexuality Rights Association of Taiwan and Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association
called on the government to heed the needs of the minorities by abolishing Article 80 of the Social Order Maintenance Act, which stipulates that any one intending to profit through performance of a sexual act is subject to a three-day detention or fine
of up to NT$30,000.
COSWAS secretary Chian Chia-ying said the government should follow the trend of many developed countries by legalizing prostitution and not penalizing sex workers and their patrons. Instead of continuing to ignore their plight, the government should
protect their right to work in a clean and safe environment, the protesters said.
The ministry held a public hearing on the issue of problems faced by sex workers. No resolution was reached, but a ministry official promised that the issue would be further discussed after the legislative recess.
COSWAS said the 1997 ban on brothels had devastated the lives of many sex workers, who had no other way to make a living. Forced to continue working illegally, the workers lost all legal options for recourse if they were hurt or cheated by customers, it
said. Before the clampdown, prostitutes could charge customers between NT$800 and NT$1,000 for 15 minutes and could demand their customers wear condoms or else refuse to have sex with them. After the crackdown, working conditions have deteriorated
drastically, COSWAS said, with most prostitution rings controlled by organized crime.
Taiwan Legislator Cheng Li-wen has announced a plan to push for revising the existing rules to decriminalize the sex trade for adults in order to eradicate sexual discrimination and protect workers' rights.
Cheng, a female lawmaker of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT), said her plan has won endorsement from more than 10 colleagues of the same party, meaning the proposal of changing the rules has passed the threshold for becoming a bill that would be discussed on
the parliament floor.
The proposal aims to delete Article 80 of the existing Social Order Maintenance Law, under which prostitutes are punished. Prostitutes face detention of three days or a fine of up to NT$30,000 if they are caught providing sex services. They are also
required to attend training courses to learn vocational skills for a period of six to 12 months if they were convicted three times in the same year.
Cheng said scrapping the rule will legalize the legitimate rights of sex workers who provide the service between two mutually consenting adults.
Since prostitution is illegal under the current rules, sex workers are often abused. When this happens, they dare not turn to police for help, she said. Cheng said at least 5,000 sex workers are victimized by the backward rules each year, affecting the
livelihood of a same number of families.
All of the 18 people representing the women's groups, housewives, sex workers, and scholars, unanimously agreed that the sex trade should not be penalized, when they attended a series of four-day public hearings on the issue held by the Executive Yuan
(Cabinet) last November, pointed out Cheng.
An organization representing sex workers once again protested for the legalization of prostitution yesterday at the Ministry of the Interior, resulting in an official promising to announce the ministry's stance by the 18th.
Four months since its last appeal, the Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters (COWAS) returned to the ministry in demand of an official timeline.
An official from the ministry met with the collective and said that the ministry is ready to publish its directives on the issue by the 18th.
Taiwan's government is considering allowing red-light districts on the island, a minister has said, in a controversial bid to legalize prostitution.
We are currently researching this and the cabinet's human rights committee will make a decision, Vice-Interior Minister Lin Join-sane told reporters.
According to the ministry, sex workers may be licensed to work in special zones in a move aimed at better monitoring the sex trade and preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
Predictably nutters are objecting. We have to be prudent as the trend is to phase out red-light districts. Our national image is very important, said lawmaker Lee Ching-hua of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT).
Under existing laws, prostitutes face detention of three days or a fine of up to 30,000 Taiwan dollars ($888) if they are caught providing sexual services. Their clients go unpunished.
While there is no official estimate of the scale of Taiwan's sex industry, it is estimated to involve up to 800,000 people. About 30 prostitutes are licensed nationwide under laws enacted in 1957. However, the government has since stopped issuing
licenses, allowing these permits to be phased out.
The Taiwanese Executive Yuan has stepped back from a Ministry of the Interior proposal to create red light districts with legalized prostitution due to conflicting public opinion.
It has been decided that legislation managing the sex trade needs to be mapped out before moving ahead with a study of accompanying measures.
The MOI proposed the decriminalization of the sex industry through authorizing city and county governments to set up red light districts in their respective jurisdictions during a meeting convened in recent days by the Executive Yuan's Human Rights
Protection and Promotion Committee to discuss five major human rights issues.
However, the proposal stirred controversy, with women's groups divided between those supporting the rights of sex workers and those opposed to the sexual exploitation of women. Much opposition was also expressed by various city and county governments.
The ministry therefore proposed five major measures to be initiated in the near and mid term prior to proceeding with the establishment of red light districts.
Among the short-term measures proposed were the strengthening of the government's clamp down on human trafficking, as well as the enhancing of health screening and care for sex industry workers, to name a few.
The mid-term measures include mapping out a set of regulations to manage the red light districts and establishing a public consensus on the issue. The regulations will cover fines and prohibitions on activities within and outside the districts, the
amount of related fines for prostitutes, pimps and customers, as well as the delegation of authority to related agencies for managing the districts, among other matters.
A public conference held by experts and scholars commissioned by the Research, Development and Evaluation Commission under the Executive Yuan came to the conclusion that prostitutes and their customers should not be punished.
The experts pointed to five advantages to legalizing the sex industry. First, doing so will allow the government to better monitor and regulate the industry. It will also allow for more accurate education on related issues, and facilitate better health
care for sex industry workers to reduce related risks.
Morever, it will make possible the establishment of a compensation mechanism to handle disputes in the industry, as well as enable the government to levy taxes in order to enhance public hygiene, they said.
For years, prostitutes caught in police raids in Taiwan were punished under the law, while their clients walked free. However, this law was challenged as unfair by two judges in a recent case involving two elderly prostitutes, and the justices'
petition for a judicial review has led to an upcoming change in the rules.
The Constitutional Court has decided that the relevant article in the Social Order Maintenance Act violates the principle of equality enshrined in the Constitution, and that new regulations should be worked out by the administration and the legislature.
As amendment of the regulations and penalties pertaining to prostitution requires administrative and legislative review and planning, the Constitutional Court ruled that the existing law will be retained for two more years until Nov. 5, 2011.
Meanwhile, the judges suggested that the police and judicial authorities show leniency when dealing with the punishment of prostitutes, whom they described as socially disadvantaged individuals.
Whether to legalize the sex industry was once again the focus of discussion at the Taiwanese legislature after the Ministry of the Interior
the day before announced its policy direction on the controversial subject.
Following a public hearing on the matter, the ministry said in a statement that most participants were inclined to allow sex workers to work in what it called independent studios of three to five people, which would avoid corporate control of the sex industry.
The statement said most participants did not want to see the development of red light districts and would rather that certain neighborhoods — such as school zones or areas in the vicinity of religious institutions — be designated by local governments as
off-limits to the sex industry.
The ministry has been in serious discussions with various groups and academics about ways to legalize prostitution after the Council of Grand Justices declared a clause in the Social Order Maintenance Act banning -prostitution unconstitutional and said
it would become invalid in November next year.
Minister of the Interior Jiang Yi-huah said at the Internal Administration Committee meeting yesterday that although the ministry had yet to make a final decision on how the sex industry would evolve after next year, the majority view expressed at a
hearing would help shape the policy.
Taiwan sex workers say that the new law could actually worsen their plight.
Under the law passed by parliament, local governments are allowed to set up special penalty-free sex trade zones, but outside them prostitutes will still be be fined, as, for the first time, will their customers and pimps.
But so far no local authority has yet said it will create a legal prostitution area, leaving streetwalkers fearing they face the worst of both worlds.
A recent survey of 22 local governments by the mass-circulation Apple Daily newspaper found none supporting the plan, 21 rejecting it and only one still undecided.
We will not consider opening a sex trade zone because there is no public consensus on this highly controversial issue, said Edward Zhang, spokesman for the government of Taipei, Taiwan's capital and largest city: Taipei is too crowded to
provide a suitable location away from schools and residential areas .
On the 18 of October, sex workers and allies held a protest outside the Taipei City Government. Protesters asked for the decriminalisation of
sex work, for an end to illegal entrapment practices targeting sex workers, and for the government to stop ignoring sex workers. They are asking for safe and legal places to work.
One week ago, Taiwan Supreme Court Judge announced his support of the decriminalisation of sex work and the establishment of zones allowing sex work in Taipei. After the announcement, activists met outside Taipei City Government to demand the Mayor
announce his position. Tsai Ting-sheng, Speaking as Secretary for Taipei City Administrative Department, said the opinions of protesters would be brought back for further deliberation. However, sex workers say this issue has been continuously
dismissed and treated with contempt by governments.
In 2011, an amendment to the Social Order and Maintenance Act gave local governments powers to designate special sex trade zones for consenting adults. However all 22 county and city mayors have spoken against fencing off a sex zone in their district on
fears of a surge in crime rates and a plunge in real estate values according to reports.
Under this policy, both sex workers and their clients are subject to fines ranging from NT$1,500 (Euro $45) to NT$30,000 (Euro $870) for engaging in paid sex outside the permissible vicinity. Before these newer laws were introduced, only the sex workers
themselves had been penalised.
Penalizing sex workers drives the industry deeper underground, and only decriminalisation can ensure the proper regulation and management of the industry, Hsu said in response to lawmakers' questions at the Supreme Court last week.
Despite the change of legislation in 2011, lawmakers and city governments have both avoided the issue. In the meantime, failure to address the issue has left sex workers enduring a lack of safe and legal places to work.
Kuo Pei-yu, Secretary of COSWAS explained how the Taipei mayor was giving the police and city government free rein to treat sex workers like ATM machines by having undercover officers pose as clients and entrap sex workers. Sex workers are
asked to pay large fines by police officers who entrap them. She said this strategy was illegal as it induced people to commit crimes. The fines from such charges can be up to $1 million Taiwanese Dollars (approximately 29,000 Euros).