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Mon, Jan 03, 2000 - Page 2 News List

Decriminalization of adultery discussed

THE LAW Taiwan is one of the few countries where adultery can land you in jail. While legal scholars say this is outdated, women's groups argue that it is important, as women still have insufficient legal protection in the event of divorce

By Irene Lin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Huang said that while some use the criminal charge as a means of protecting their own marriages, others use it as a "weapon" which often forces the cheating spouse to offer more in a divorce agreement in terms of the distribution of property.

"It works," Huang said. "Lots of people feel it's very disgraceful to have a criminal record tagged on them. And they would rather give more to avoid the tagging."

What women say

A few years ago, the Ministry of Justice recommended the decriminalization of adultery, but it was not able to push the change through in the face of strong opposition from the public, particularly married women.

While public support for decriminalization is gradually increasing, even so, the change might be some time in coming.

"We've found more and more women do accept that adultery is not a crime. They might admit [criminalization] is a mean wea-pon; nevertheless it's still their belief that their rights can be secured better with that weapon to hand," according to Yang Fang-wan (楊芳婉), a women rights activist from the Awakening Foundation who is also a lawyer.

Yang said it is indisputable that everyone is free to love and to be loved. She said, however, one cannot make judgements about the issue without considering the reality that many women will not be able to survive, emotionally or financially, after a divorce.

"Those loyal to their marriage are supposed to be the good people the law should protect. It's not easy for them to come to terms with the idea that the betrayer of the marriage can get away with it so easily," Yang said.

"Love is free and it's neither right or wrong. But it's really difficult for these women, who have dedicated themselves to their marriage, to accept they have to take the pain caused by the fault of their spouse," she said.

From a practical point of view, Yang said, the existing divorce law does not give enough protection to women on property rights after the divorce. The government has started working on amending the law on distribution of property between divorcing spouses under pressure from women groups. "Until legal protection is better established for women, we don't think the time is right to decriminalize adultery. At the very least, it serves as an effective weapon to force cheating husbands to offer more financial support to their divorcing wives," Yang said.

Scholarly perspectives

Adultery remained a crime in West Germany until 1969. The German decision to decriminalize adultery was generally based on the fact that there were only a small number of adultery prosecutions, sentences delivered for the crime seemed often too lenient and most importantly, there was a danger that the adultery charge was used simply to get revenge.

Legal scholars in Taiwan have long argued that the reasoning behind the German decision could be applied equally to Taiwan. Adult-ery, they believe, is a civil issue, not a criminal one in which the power of the government should intervene.

Scholars have especially criticized the use of the charge as a weapon to obtain more from a divorce agreement.

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