The Ministry of Interior yesterday tried to calm local sex workers after a newspaper reported the government plans to require them to obtain permission from their spouses before entering the trade to avoid committing adultery, which is a criminal offense.
Minister Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) told a press conference that no definitive plan has been set and the government was still gathering opinions from all sides. A decision is expected within six months, he said.
A report in the Chinese-language United Daily News said the ministry is ready to draft an act on sex trade management that would require all sex workers to obtain the consent of their spouse to enter the trade or face adultery charges if they are caught by the police.
“The Human Rights Protection Taskforce under the Executive Yuan met last week to discuss issues such as decriminalization of prostitution and the management of the sex trade, but no details were mentioned and we are still in the research phase,” the minister said.
He said a group of experts made the proposal on obtaining prior consent to the ministry last year. Other suggestions included setting up red light districts, holding a referendum at the local government level and allowing individual brothels to run as legitimate businesses.
While the law punishes sex workers, their clients face no punishment. There have also been cases where sex workers were indicted for adultery.
Last November, the Council of Grand Justices released a constitutional interpretation that stated the clause in the Social Order Maintenance Act (社會秩序維護法) that imposes penalties on sex workers, but not their clients, was unconstitutional and should be abolished within two years because it violated the spirit of equality enshrined in the Constitution.
A sex worker under the alias “Miko” said it would be impossible for many of her peers to tell their husbands about their work.
“How can the government expect a woman to tell her husband that because he was unable to provide for the family she has to sell her body? Many of us cannot afford for our families to find out we are in this line of work,” she said.
Advocates also panned the proposal, saying such an act would further exploit women who are already struggling financially. Moreover, human trafficking rings would be encouraged to use fake marriages as an avenue to force more girls to walk the streets, Taiwan’s Women Link said.
What the government needs to do, said the Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters, is legalize prostitution and provide the workers with the necessary benefits and security, not impose more legal barriers.
When asked for her opinion about the proposal, a 26-year-old accountant, Chen Hui-ying (陳慧茵), said the government had no business telling a woman what to do with her body and the issue would be resolved if adultery was decriminalized.
A survey conducted and released by the ministry showed that 68.5 percent of respondents said the adult sex trade should be recognized as a legal business. However, the same poll also showed that 47.8 percent opposed decriminalizing prostitution.
Legislators also weighed in on the idea.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Cheng Li-wun (鄭麗文), who previously proposed a bill decriminalizing prostitution, questioned whether the person who proposed asking for a spouse’s permission really understood the trade.
“Why do those in this business need to seek consent from their spouses if those in other industries are not required to do so?” Cheng said.
However, KMT Legislator Chi Kuo-tung (紀國棟) voiced support for the proposal, saying that sex workers should not get married if they were worried about the proposal.
Additional reporting by Flora Wang
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