Prostitution in Taiwan

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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)[edit]

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.

Korean women came to work as prostitutes in Taiwan during this period.[1][2]

Postwar Nationalist Government (1945 - )[edit]

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.[3]

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),[4] 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.[5][6][7]

Criminalisation (1991)[edit]

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.[8]

After a long public debate,[9] Cheng Li-wun introduced a Bill in April 2009 to decriminalise sex work.[10] 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.[4][11][12][13]

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)[edit]

Subsequent to this, the Constitutional Court declared the existing legislation unconstitutional, and ordered that it cease to be in effect within 2 years.[14] Again government officials stated there were plans to decriminalise sex work.[15] 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.[16]

In October 2010 the government announced it was planning to allow small brothels to operate, while meanwhile the laws are no longer being enforced.[17] In May 2011 the Government announced that a draft bill was imminent.[18]


Taiwan's approach created renewed hope for those advocating for more liberal policies in mainland China.[19] In Taiwan the public narrowly supported the initiative but it was opposed by some women's groups such as The Garden of Hope Foundation.[20][21][22][23]

Legal status[edit]

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.[citation needed]

In 2015, Taiwan busted a global escort prostitution ring.[24]


  1. ^ Jin, Jungwon (2014). "Reconsidering Prostitution under the Japanese Occupation - Through the Korean Brothels in Colonial Taiwan". THE REVIEW OF KOREAN STUDIES. 17 (1): 115–157. 
  2. ^ JIN, Jungwon (September 2010). "Standing in the Gap of Society: Korean Prostitutes in Colonial Taiwan" (PDF). Taiwan Historical Research. Institute of Taiwan History Academia Sinica. 17 (3): 107–149. Archived from the original on 1 September 2010. Retrieved 2 March 2017. 
  3. ^ Crime and Punishment of prostitutes in Taiwan. March 24 2007
  4. ^ a b Taiwan’s prostitution conundrum. Taipei Times June 17 2009
  5. ^ Push to stamp out Taipei’s booming sex industry. The Straits Times, 14 December 2000
  6. ^ Taipei's legal prostitution ends at midnight. Asia Political News April 2 2001
  7. ^ Taipei’s legal brothels shut. The Straits Times, 28 March 2001
  8. ^ Defend Freedom of Expression; Protest Imminent Prosecution of Sexual Rights Scholar/Activist. IGLHRC July 17 2003
  9. ^ Debate on legalizing sex trade continues. Taipei Times sept 23 2008
  10. ^ Prostitution bill triggers debate. Taipei Times April 14 2009
  11. ^ Pressured by sex workers, Taiwan OKs prostitution. Reuters June 24 2009
  12. ^ Government moves to decriminalize sex transactions. Taipei Times June 25 2009
  13. ^ Prostitution to be decriminalized: official. Taiwan News June 24 2009
  14. ^ Interpretation of Article 80, Social Order Maintenance Act, Constitutional Court of Taiwan. Nov 6 2009
  15. ^ MOI plans to decriminalize prostitution. Taipei Times Nov 8 2009
  16. ^ Permission to enter sex trade still in ‘research’. Taipei Times Feb 3 2010
  17. ^ New law to allow small brothels in Taiwan. Korea Herald Oct 10 2010 Archived 2011-10-07 at the Wayback Machine.
  18. ^ Taiwan set to lift 20-year sex trade ban. Inquirer Global Nation May 13 2011 Archived 2011-05-17 at the Wayback Machine.
  19. ^ Legalized prostitution in Taiwan stirring debate. Shanghaiist July 13 2009
  20. ^ Legal Taiwan prostitution? Straits Times July 9 2009
  21. ^ CATW Fight against the legalization of prostitution in Taiwan. Nov 2009 Archived 2011-06-09 at the Wayback Machine.
  22. ^ Asian forum Dec 1 2009
  23. ^ WURN Joint Statement Against Legalization of Prostitution. Nov 25 2009 Archived 2011-07-18 at the Wayback Machine.
  24. ^ Pan, Jason (29 October 2015). "Taiwan and US break up global escort service ring". Taipei Times. Retrieved 4 July 2016. 


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