Minister of the Interior Yu Cheng-hsien (余政憲) yesterday promised to crack down within six months on betel-nut vendors who cause obstructions, saying the law does not allow for the arrest of scantily clad women on any other grounds.
The minister made the remark in response to questions from the legislature's Sanitation, Environment and Social Welfare Committee.
TSU legislator Liao Pen-yen (廖本煙) had asked the minister to propose a deadline for the getting rid of so-called "betel-nut beauties," the scantily clad young women who sell the popular nut at roadside stalls.
"Betel-nut beauties have damaged the nation's moral climate and caused many car accidents in Taiwan. I would hope the Ministry of the Interior can crack down on them as soon as possible," Liao said.
However the minister said that "The only legislation we can use against betel-nut girls is road traffic legislation against causing obstructions."
Liao added that the betel-nut girl phenomenon was "a structural problem of Taiwan's society."
"The problem can't be solved just by banning girls from selling betel nuts," he said.
Article 234 of the the Criminal Code (刑法) states that a person who publicly commits an indecent act shall be punished with detention or a fine.
The employment of scantily clad betel-nut girls became widespread in 1996, when the idea, originating along Cheng-kung Road in the Neihu district of Taipei, spread rapidly across the nation.
The girls are especially prevalent at stalls near freeway-access roads, and truck drivers are among their main customers.
The local and central governments, despite their best efforts, have consistently failed to ban betel-nut beauties in the face of moral outrage in the media, but in the absence of legislation giving them grounds for a clampdown. Numerous campaigns to rid the nation of them have been launched since 1996. But the women have become more widespread and more scantily clad.
A National Police Administration official, who declined to be identified, expressed skepticism about the extent to which betel-nut girls could be stamped out. "We have not yet received an order from the ministry but we will certainly carry out any such order when we do receive it," he added.
The annual revenue generated by the betel-nut industry is unknown, but some estimates place the figure as high as NT$950 million a year. Although betel-nut merchants and vendors are required to pay taxes, there are no official statistics on the industry, which has existed for two decades. There are reportedly some 100,000 betel-nut stores across the nation.