Wed, Nov 28, 2007 - Page 2 News List

Sex workers call for legal reform

PLEA In an effort to remove the stigma against the sex profession, the activists will hosting a two-week film festival at the Taipei NGO House starting this Friday

By Shih Hsiu-chuan and Jenny W. Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTERS

Activists calling for the decriminalization of sex work gathered outside the Executive Yuan yesterday as the Cabinet met to discuss the issue, but their appeals fell on deaf ears.

Film directors Hou Hsiao-hsien (侯孝賢) and Lin Jing-jie (林靖傑) joined the appeal staged by the Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters, calling on the government to deliver the promise of decriminalization of sex workers made by President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), but to no avail.

"There was heated debate on the issue, but the Cabinet is inclined not to legalize sex industry because of a lack of consensus," Government Spokesman Shieh Jhy-wey (謝志偉) told reporters after the meeting.

The Cabinet's inter-ministerial Human Rights Protection and Promotion Committee held its regular conference yesterday, putting the issue on the agenda.

Prostitution is illegal according to Article 80 of the Social Order Maintenance Act (社會秩序維護法), which does not extend to clients of prostitutes.

The issues of concern during the meeting were the unfairness of punishing sex workers and not clients of prostitutes and the decriminalization of the sex industry, Sheih said.

HUMAN RIGHTS

Members of the committee representing the general community argued that prohibition of sex work is not only in violation of human rights but also discrimination against women, Shieh said.

But officials from the National Police Agency and Ministry of Interior (MOI) were opposed to lifting the ban because of problems maintaining social order, human trafficking and other issues, he said.

"For the sake of fairness, the MOI might propose an amendment to the Act to extend the penalty to consumers of prostitution," Shieh said.

He said that it had been decided during the legislative process that clients of prostitutes be excluded from the penalty.

The collective's deputy director Chung Chun-chu (鍾君竺) urged the Cabinet to stop stalling on the legalization of prostitution, saying the government's refusal to legalize the profession contradicts its push for gender equality.

LEGITIMIZATION

Chung said that many sociology experts and MOI officials lean toward legitimization, but the Cabinet continues to dodge the issue, citing a lack of public consensus.

The group said that during the 2000 presidential election, 38 women's rights groups submitted a petition on legalizing prostitution to presidential candidates.

The joint effort, the group said, showed that the public agrees that it is not a crime for women above the legal age to participate in the sex trade.

The group also said many experts agree that the sex industry should be viewed as a legitimate business exchange between the customers and workers and neither party should be fined or penalized.

Chung said in 2004 when Chen was elected to his second term, he also vowed to amend article 80 of the Social Order Maintenance Act to protect sex workers from facing criminal charges, but so far, the president had not delivered on his promise.

In an effort to remove the stigma against the sex profession, the COSWS is hosting a two-week film festival at the Taipei NGO House starting this Friday to highlight the hardships faced by sex workers.

"The movies will reflect the disparity of wealth that is present in our society. We also urge all disadvantaged people to stand up and refuse to be marginalized any further," she said.

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