Thursday 25 June 2009

Pressured by sex workers, Taiwan OKs prostitution

After being banned for eleven years, Taiwan aims to legalize prostitution in six months, in hopes of ending the misery of sex workers.

Forty-seven-year-old Miko lights up a cigarette in an alley hidden away from Taipei's traffic in what was an old red light district in Taiwan's capital.
Brothels were made illegal 11 years ago in Taiwan, but that has not changed her job as a prostitute.

Miko began working in the sex industry after her divorce when she was 20-years-old and nine months pregnant.

Desperate to earn a living, she saw newspaper ads featuring millions of dollars of monthly income and stepped into the brothels.

In the past 27 years, she has worked in four different countries with counterfeit passports.

She was able to earn a handsome income that supports her daughter to study overseas, but with education only to the level of junior high school, Miko lacks the means to change her profession.

Water may have cleansed her body in the rough washing room behind the brothel, but it does not clear away her feeling of humiliation when encountered by police.

"The sex workers I know, my sisters, are living under tension everyday. After all, this is not something to be proud of. Police arrests you without any reason, and they make a fool out of you with sarcastic comments," said Miko, who has been at various protests to advocate the working rights of sex workers.

Taiwan began a process of legalising prostitution on Wednesday (June 24) making the island the latest place in the world to decriminalise the world's oldest profession.

In six months, authorities will stop punishing Taiwan sex workers after prostitutes successfully campaigned to be given the same protection as their clients, a government spokesman said.

"We are handling the decriminalization of sex workers and will request that the Ministry of the Interior come up with suggested regulations in six months. In the process, we will hear opinions from all people, including those of sex workers," said Jiang Yi-huah, Minister of the government's Research, Development and Evaluation Commission.

The current regulation penalizes the prostitutes but not the clients.

Taiwan outlawed prostitution 11 years ago, but older sections of the capital Taipei still teem with underground sex workers in bars and night clubs.

The Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters, a Taipei-based advocacy group, estimates that 600,000 people are involved in sex-related jobs.

The Collective said the legalization is something the public has wanted for 12 years.

"Developed countries are all doing this, with designated areas and not letting it over spread. It must be controlled," said an unnamed resident.

"Even if not legalizing it, the negative problems still exist and I think the problem is more severe when it's underground," said 40-year-old Julia Yang.

Local women's rights groups, however, have opposed the move.

"We believe the core of sex work is a form of sexual exploitation and legalization will make Taiwan's problem more severe," the Garden of Hope Foundation said in a recently released statement.

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