Prostitution in Oceania

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Prostitution in Oceania varies greatly across the region. In the Federated States of Micronesia prostitution is illegal and penalties severe,[1] whereas in New Zealand most aspects of the trade are decriminalised.[2]


Country/Territory Prostitution Legal Age for solicitation Brothels Pimping Notes
 American Samoa[3] Illegal Illegal Illegal Illegal No federal laws, prostitution is regulated by the territory.
 Australia[4] Legal 18 varies by jurisdiction varies by jurisdcition Federal law states that all prostitutes must be 18 or older.
 Federated States of Micronesia[1] Illegal Illegal Illegal Illegal
 Fiji[5] Legal Illegal Illegal Illegal
 French Polynesia Legal 18 Illegal Illegal
 Guam[6] Illegal Illegal Illegal Illegal No federal laws, prostitution is regulated by the territory.
 Hawaii[7] Illegal Illegal Illegal Illegal No federal laws, prostitution is regulated by the state.
 Kiribati Legal[8] 18 Illegal[9] Illegal[9]
 Marshall Islands[10] Illegal Illegal Illegal Illegal
 New Caledonia[11] Legal to sell sexual services, illegal to pay for sexual services 18 Illegal Illegal
 New Zealand[2] Legal 18 18 Legal Federal law states that all prostitutes must be 18 or older.
 Northern Mariana Islands[12] Illegal Illegal Illegal Illegal No federal laws, prostitution is regulated by the territory.
 Palau[3] Illegal Illegal Illegal Illegal
 Papua New Guinea[13] Illegal but not enforced Illegal but not enforced Illegal but not enforced Illegal but not enforced Prostitution is widely practised
 Samoa[14] Illegal Illegal Illegal Illegal
 Wallis and Futuna Legal 18 Illegal Illegal

American Samoa[edit]

Prostitution in American Samoa is illegal, as are related activities such as brothel keeping and pimping.[3] These acts are punishable by law, including a more than $500 fine or a jail sentence of up to a year for customers of prostitution. [15]

W. Somerset Maugham's short story Rain about a missionary trying to get a prostitute to give up her ways is based on Maugham's visit to American Samoa's capital Pago Pago in 1916.[16]


Prostitution in Australia is governed by state and territory laws, which vary considerably;[4] child prostitution, sex trafficking and sex slavery are prohibited by Federal legislation throughout Australia, and of Australian citizens and residents outside of the country.[4] The territories laws on escort services and brothels vary. [17]

The most liberal regime is in New South Wales, where most activities except pimping and procuring are decriminalised.[18] It has been used as a model for other jurisdictions such as New Zealand.

Federated States of Micronesia[edit]

Prostitution is illegal. The punishment for prostitution includes up to 10 years in prison, and/or a fine of up to US$20,000. However, some states impose even harsher laws for prostitution.[1]

As for trafficking, the Federated States of Micronesia is working hard to end this. For adult trafficking, the imprisonment term is up to 15 years, while the child trafficking term is up to 30 years. Both adult trafficking and child trafficking can result to fines up to $50,000.


Prostitution in Fiji is legal, but most activities connected with it are illegal: brothel keeping, pimping and buying or selling sex in public.[13] The Crimes Decree 2009[19] sets out the legislation regarding sex work and replaces the provisions of the earlier Penal Code.[5] Since the new legislation there has been increased enforcement, especially towards street workers and their clients.[13][5] Street workers make up the bulk of Fiji's prostitutes. Child trafficking has become a big issue. Many foundations are urging Fiji to crackdown on child trafficking.[20]

French Polynesia[edit]

Prostitution in French Polynesia is legal, while brothels are not.[21] In French Polynesia's capital, Papeete, it was estimated that there were about 100 prostitutes working the streets in 2012. Of these 30% were female, 20% male and 50% transsexual (known as "raerae").[22]

When Captain Samuel Wallis discovered Tahiti in 1767, he traded with the islanders for fresh provisions. The Polynesians had no source of iron, and the women sold sex for nails.[23] Wallis had to ban shore leave for the crew for fear of the ship collapsing as so many nails had been removed from the structure.[24] When Captain Cook arrived in 1769, the price had risen from one nail to three nails. By the time of Cook's 3rd visit in 1774, the currency had changed from nails to European clothes and red parrot feathers (considered sacred).[25]


Prostitution is illegal in Guan but is practised covertly, especially in massage parlours.[26] Chapter 28 (Public Indecency) of the Guam Crimes and Correctional Code outlaws prostitution as well as soliciting, compelling, promoting or abetting prostitution. The latter includes using the services of a prostitute.[6] Although massage parlours are sometimes raided, generally the authorities turn a blind eye.[26] The Department of Public Health and Social Services mandates STI testing massage parlour workers[27] The have been ongoing discussions about establishing a red-light district since 2006.[26]

During the Japanese occupation of Guam in WW2, some local Chamorro women were forced to work in the Japanese military brothels set up on the island (I Tiempon Chapones)[28] along with the Japanese and Korean woman the Japanese had brought there. After the American liberation of Guam, a number of brothels were set up to serve the American servicemen.[29]


Prostitution in Hawaii is illegal under Hawaii Revised Statutes section 712-1200. Both the buying and selling of sex, and also related activities such as soliciting, promoting prostitution and allowing premises to be used for prostitution, are prohibited. The penalty is a fine of up to $500 and/or up to 30 days imprisonment.[7][30]

It was legal for Law Enforcement Officers to have sex with prostitutes if they were 'collecting evidence' of prostitution. A new law in 2014 outlawed this practice.[13][31]

In May 2015, a dozen Honolulu sex-workers were arrested during raids on massage parlours. Rather than being charged with prostitution they were charged with sexual assault, which carries far heavier penalties. When they were offering sex they touched the undercover officers genitals. Bill Johnson of the National Association of Police Organisations said the change of Honolulu Police's tactics could be a way of adapting to prostitutes becoming aware of how undercover officers make arrests.

A Bill was put before Hawaii's state government in January 2017, with the intent of decriminalising prostitution. On the second reading it was referred to the "House Committee on Judiciary" for further investigation and the case was adjourned sine die.[32][33]


Prostitution in Kiribati is legal[8] but related activities such as keeping a brothel are illegal.[9]

Prostitution centres around the fishing industry in the capital, Tarawa. The waters around Kiribati are some of the richest fishing grounds in the world. Many international fishing boats, predominantly South Korean, anchor off Tarawa and young women, some as young as 14, are transported to the fishing boats by smaller craft or by the boats that unload the fish from fishing boats. The prostitutes are known as "korakorea".[34][35][8]

In an attempt to stop this trade, the government banned Korean ships from the port for a while in 2003. A two year ban was later introduced between 2003 and 2005.[8]

Marshall Islands[edit]

Prostitution in the Marshall Islands is illegal following the Prostitution Prohibition Act of 2001.[10] Victims of trafficking are protected under law.[36]

Prostitution normally takes place on Japanese, South Korean or Taiwanese fishing boats moored in the lagoons. There are some Chinese prostitutes in the country who charge more than the local prostitutes. Because of the higher price their customers tend to be the officers on the fishing boats.[37]

New Caledonia[edit]

New Caledonia is a French overseas collectivity. Whilst it can make its own laws, it often follows the laws of mainland France. On 12th December 2016, the government added the French Law of June 2016 that criminalised the purchasers of sex to its Penal Code.[11] Related activities such as brothel keeping and pimping have been illegal since 1946.

In May 1940, the French Army brought a large house in the capital Nouméa. They leased it to a Mme Benitier to set up a brothel. This was recognised as a "maison de tolerence" and known as The Pink House. The house became popular with American troops during their build up in the country in 1942/3.[38] American military police and medics were on duty at the house to keep order and prevent the spread of STIs.[39]

New Zealand[edit]

In 2003, the New Zealand Prostitution Reform Act decriminalized sex work.[40] Prostitution (sex work), brothel keeping, living off the proceeds of someone else's prostitution and street solicitation are legal in New Zealand. Coercion of sex workers is illegal.[41]

Often, when other countries discuss their future prostitution policy, the "New Zealand Model" is put forward as an example of decriminalisation. Although sex work is legal, New Zealand has to actively work to tear down stigmas and make sex work a safe option. [40]

Northern Mariana Islands[edit]

Prostitution in the Northern Mariana Islands is illegal but widely practised. Sections 1341 - 1350 of the Commonwealth Code criminalises the buyers and sellers of sex and also those who profit from the prostitution of others.[12]

Many of the prostitutes are Chinese or Filipino, having first come to the islands to work in the garment factories which subsequently closed.[42]


Prostitution is illegal in Palau.[43] The Anti-Prostitution Act criminalises prostitution, advancing or profiting from prostitution, soliciting and purchasing of sex.[3]

Some illegal prostitution occurs in karaoke bars, massage parlours, and bars. The prostitutes are mainly Chinese & Filipino. This trade has declined since the shutting of the military bases.[44]

Papua New Guinea[edit]

Prostitution is illegal in Papua New Guinea but widely practised and the laws rarely enforced.[14] The Summary Offences Act 1977 makes keeping a brothel and living on the earnings of prostitution offences. The idea of the law was to decriminalise prostitution but criminalise those who sought to exploit or profit from it. In 1978, a Papua New Guinea court interpreted ‘living on the earnings of prostitution’ to include 'profit from one's own prostitution'. The ruling effectively made all prostitution illegal.[13] This may be a unique legal situation in that prostitution is made illegal not by Statute law but by case law.


Prostitution is illegal in Samoa under the Laws of Western Samoa Act 1961. Samoan law also prohibits anyone from living on the earnings of a prostitute, for which the maximum penalty is ten years' imprisonment.[45] Pimping and brothelkeeping are also illegal, with the latter subject to a maximum of five years' imprisonment. Soliciting for prostitution is not an offence, and there is no separate offence for forced sex work.[46] In 2009, an investigation by the Samoan Observer newspaper identified that prostitution taking place on the islands.[47] A study carried out in 2016 by the United Nations Development Programme, UNICEF and the University of New South Wales indicated that there were approximately 400 female sex workers in Samoa, serving local and foreign clients. The primary reason for women doing sex work was economic.[48] In February 2017, Samoa Police prepared to launch an investigation into a foreign-owned business alleged to be using local women in a prostitution operation.[49] In the same year the Ministry of Health put forward plans to to offer counselling and educational services to sex workers.[50]


  1. ^ a b c "Micronesia: 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report". US Department of State. 2014. 
  2. ^ a b Prostitution Reform Act 2003.
  3. ^ a b c d Godwin, John (October 2012). "Sex Work and the Law in Asia and the Pacific" (PDF). UNAIDS. 
  4. ^ a b c "Prostitution in Australia- Where is it Legal?". LY Lawyers. 26 January 2016. Retrieved 23 November 2017. 
  5. ^ a b c McMillan, Karen; Worth, Heather. "Sex Workers and HIV Prevention in Fiji - after the Fiji Crimes Decree 2009". University of New South Wales. 
  6. ^ a b "GCA Crimes and Correction" (PDF). Guam Courts. Retrieved 22 November 2017. 
  7. ^ a b "Hawaii Prostitution and Solicitation Laws". Find Law. Retrieved 23 November 2017. 
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  9. ^ a b c Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2008 Vol.1. US Department of State. p. 862. 
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  11. ^ a b "Journal Officiel de la Nouvelle-Caledonie" (PDF). Juridoc. 3 January 2017. Retrieved 25 November 2017. 
  12. ^ a b "Title 6: Crimes and Criminal Procedure Division 1: Crimes Against The Person". Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Law Revision Commission. Retrieved 24 November 2017. 
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  16. ^ Page 244 Samuel J. Rogal, A William Somerset Maugham Encyclopedia. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1997.
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  18. ^ "Summary Offences Act 1988". 31 March 2014. 
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  20. ^ "Fiji urged to end the silence and crackdown on child prostitution". Reuters. 8 December 2017. Retrieved 2017-12-09. 
  21. ^ "French Polynesia - Alcohol, drugs & prostitution - The Basetrip". The Basetrip. Retrieved 2017-12-09. 
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  24. ^ Henningham, Stephen (24 January 1992). France and the South Pacific: A Contemporary History. Allen & Unwin. 
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  32. ^ "Hawaii lawmaker submits bill to legalize prostitution". KXAN. 5 February 2017. Retrieved 23 November 2017. 
  33. ^ "HB1533". Hawaii State Legislature. Retrieved 23 November 2017. 
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  38. ^ Munholland, K; Munholland, J. Kim (11 Dec 2006). Rock of Contention: Free French and Americans at War in New Caledonia, 1940-1945. Berghahn Books. p. 152. ISBN 978-1845453008. 
  39. ^ Brier, Morris (24 February 1992). "Korean 'Comfort Women' Not Prostitutes; New Caledonia, 1944". New York Times. Retrieved 25 November 2017. 
  40. ^ a b "Decriminalising sex work in New Zealand: its history and impact". openDemocracy. 2015-08-20. Retrieved 2017-12-09. 
  41. ^ Section 16, Prostitution Reform Act 2003.
  42. ^ "Saipan-pan". Everything Everywhere. 10 September 2007. Retrieved 24 November 2017. 
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  48. ^ Mata'afa Keni Lesa (4 May 2017). "Sex workers and frightening truth about Samoa today". Samoa Observer. 
  49. ^ Ilia L. Likou (February 2017). "Prostitution rumour rejected". Samoa Observer. 
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