Prostitution in Taiwan
Prostitution in Taiwan remains illegal under a 1991 law, but is under active consideration of reform following a Constitutional Court decision that it violated the Constitution.
Japanese colonial rule (1895-1945)
During the Japanese colonial period (1895–1945), geisha houses and brothels had been authorized to operate in certain districts of Taiwan. Later geishas evolved into "hostesses". As late as the 1950s, many girls who had been indentured by their parents into prostitution for financial reasons did so willingly, out of a feeling of filial piety. During World War II, the Japanese recruited or coerced women into serving as comfort women.
Postwar Nationalist Government (1945 - )
With the return to Chinese rule in 1945, the Chinese Nationalist government initially banned most hostesses and prostitutes, labeling prostitution as an immoral phenomenon encouraged by the Japanese, although at the same time the Ministry of Defense maintained official brothels on outer islands to provide sexual services to the many single military men who arrived from the mainland in 1949. In 1956, the government revived the policy of registering and licensing prostitutes under the Measures for the Administration of Taiwan Province of Prostitutes.
Rapid industrialization in the 1960s brought an influx of young people into the cities, giving rise to a coffee-house subculture, where female hostesses catered to young male workers. At roughly the same time, the opening of two US army bases spawned bars and dance halls to cater to the American military population.
Government concern over immorality led to increased police attention directed at intimacy in public and sometimes private. The sex trade became increasingly controversial; in 1974 the government stopped licensing new brothels, and in the 1980s, a campaign aimed at rescuing Taiwanese aborigine girls forced into prostitution grew into an anti-prostitution movement that successfully lobbied for outright banning of prostitution across Taiwan, culminating in the 1997 outlawing of prostitution in the city of Taipei under then mayor Chen Shui-bian (later President of the Republic), the only place in Taiwan where it was still legal. However Chen lost the next election and his successor, Ma Ying-jeou (who later succeeded Chen as president) allowed a grace period that extended till April 2001.
Sex work became illegal in Taiwan under Article 80 of the Social Order and Maintenance Act 1991, which replaced the Police Offence Law of the 1950s and criminalised the mainly female population of sex workers. Sex workers could be detained for a maximum of three days, fined up to NT$30,000 or sent to a correctional institution for a period of between 6 and 12 months.
Chen, who outlawed sex work in Taipei in 1997, became President between 2000-2008. During this time, in addition to prosecution of women sex workers, advocates like Josephine Ho also faced discrimination from conservative groups.
After a long public debate, Cheng Li-wun introduced a Bill in April 2009 to decriminalise sex work. In June 2009, in response to both sex workers’ demands, academic research and a commitment to bring Taiwan's legislation into harmony with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Ma Ying-jeou administration announced that prostitution was to be decriminalized, according to Jiang Yi-huah, minister of the Research, Development and Evaluation Commission.
Announcing that Article 80 would be abolished, on the grounds of treating prostitution as a matter of human rights, the government concluded that punishing sexual transactions only forced them underground, leaving sex workers open to abuse. The government stated that while sexual transactions between consenting adults should be governed by personal, educational and religious considerations, rather than by laws, the sex trade should be regulated like any other occupation. The law was also felt to be largely ineffectual. It left the question of where people could engage in prostitution up to local governments. Regulations were promised within six months, which were to be mainly the responsibility of local government. In the meantime jail terms were to be replaced by fines, and police officers would no longer be credited for the arrest of sex workers.
Constitutional decision (2009)
Subsequent to this, the Constitutional Court declared the existing legislation unconstitutional, and ordered that it cease to be in effect within 2 years. Again government officials stated there were plans to decriminalise sex work. This was the first pronouncement by the Ministry of the Interior on the subject, but plans to allow local red-light districts were opposed by Taipei's Mayor Hau Lung-bin. However, in 2010 the Government is still debating the subject.
In October 2010 the government announced it was planning to allow small brothels to operate, while meanwhile the laws are no longer being enforced. In May 2011 the Government announced that a draft bill was imminent.
Taiwan's approach created renewed hope for those advocating for more liberal policies in mainland China. In Taiwan the public narrowly supported the initiative but it was opposed by some women's groups such as The Garden of Hope Foundation.
Prostitution in Taiwan is illegal, and no "special zones" where prostitution is allowed have been opened. Foreign prostitutes caught by police are charged with prostitution rather than 'illegal work by foreign national', which implies illegality. The United States has also warned Taiwan not to legalize prostitution, as it is against U.S. foreign policy.
In 2015, Taiwan busted a global escort prostitution ring.
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