Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Cheng Li-wun (鄭麗文) said yesterday that she had proposed an amendment to the Social Order Maintenance Act (社會秩序維護法) that would decriminalize prostitution.
The proposal aims to amend the existing law under which prostitutes are punished but their clients are not.
The current law puts sex workers in an unfavorable position, with some of them suffering unfair treatment, abuse and discrimination, Cheng told reporters at the legislature yesterday.
“Some of them have been victims of human trafficking or have been deceived. But the regulations make it impossible for them to seek help from law enforcement authorities,” Cheng said. “To bring some light into dark corners, the first thing to do is to legalize prostitution.”
Legalization of prostitution has been a controversial issue in the nation for years.
The current Act allows law enforcement authorities to detain prostitutes for a maximum of three days or fine them up to NT$30,000. Authorities also have the power to send prostitutes to correction institutions for a period of between six months and 12 months. However, the Act does not include any punishment for the clients of prostitutes.
Cheng’s proposal seeks to abolish these regulations and to legalize sexual transactions between consenting adults.
Her proposal had so far garnered support from 10 KMT lawmakers, meaning it has passed the threshold for becoming a bill and can be discussed on the legislative floor.
Cheng said the government should consider whether to designate a red-light district for sex workers or require that sex workers obtain work permits.
However, several male KMT legislators expressed opposition to the bill.
KMT Legislator Lee Hung-chun (李鴻鈞) said Cheng’s proposal was “controversial.” It would be unreasonable to seek to legalize the sex trade while, at the same time, the National Communications Commission was banning TV commercials that accentuated women’s breasts, he said.
KMT Legislator Lin Hung-chih (林鴻池) of the Social Welfare and Environmental Hygiene Committee said he had reservations about the proposal because he feared its impact.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Huang Wei-cher (黃偉哲) said the working rights of prostitutes should be respected, but that when lawmakers consider legalizing prostitution, they should also provide supplementary measures, such as public health management and measures to prevent human trafficking, under-age prostitution, sexual abuse and teens visiting prostitutes.
When asked for comment, former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) said yesterday that the issue was related to human rights and women’s rights groups should do some research into the international view on legalizing prostitution. Domestic public opinion polls should also be held on the issue, she said.
Activists and women’s groups remained divided in their reactions to Cheng’s proposal.
Modern Women’s Foundation executive director Yao Shu-wen (姚淑文) welcomed the move, saying that banning the sex industry only drives it underground and leaves it at the mercy of gangsters.
“Legalizing the sex industry and implementing a set of regulations would offer better protection to sex workers,” Yao said.
Gender/Sexuality Rights Association Taiwan secretary-general Wang Ping (王蘋) agreed.
“If we don’t look at problems in the sex industry such as exploitation of sex workers, and just pretend it doesn’t exist, we’re all guilty of making it worse,” Wang said. “Such a proposal is only a beginning and we hope the government will come up with a set of regulations.”
Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters secretary Chien Chia-ying (簡嘉瑩) said Cheng’s proposal was one that sex workers would be happy to see.
“The sex industry has always existed and if we want to give sex workers better protection, we should look at it as just a job, a regular occupation just like all others,” Chien said. “If we see it as just a regular job, of course neither the worker nor the consumer should be punished by the law.”
Although a supporter of not penalizing sex workers, Garden of Hope Foundation executive director Chi Hui-jung (紀惠容) said she was against legalizing the sex industry.
“We believe that sex workers should not be punished because many of them are economically disadvantaged and have no other choice,” Chi said.
“But as a group that have long been working to prevent child prostitution and human trafficking, we’re against the sex industry and against the idea that sex can be sold or bought,” she said.
Chi said buying sex should still be punished because “if there’s no demand, there won’t be the supply.”
“If prostitution was legalized, society would have twisted values about sex — how could parents tell their children not to become prostitutes if the sex industry was legalized?” Chi said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY RICH CHANG AND AFP
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