Taiwan Gets More Sane About Sex

TAIPEI CITY, ROC—Most people are aware of Taiwan only as the smallish island-nation (Republic of China, or ROC) that's continually maintained its independence from its larger neighbor, the People's Republic of China—and in fact claims that the 264x larger "Communist China" with its 1.3 billion residents is actually part of the ROC's legitimate sovereignty.

But despite living in constant fear of attacks from the "mainland," the ROC has managed to build itself into an industrial empire that shares, with Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea, membership in the group known as the Four Asian Tigers.

But along with this industrialization, the nation's culture—two-thirds of the population are either Buddhist or Taoist—has taken a turn for the libertarian: The Interior Ministry has announced that it plans to legalize prostitution within newly-created "red light districts" in order to protect sex workers' rights and to police the industry more easily.

Certainly, one of the reasons behind the move is the fact that observers of Taiwan's sex trade estimate that it generates billions of New Taiwanese dollars (or, more commonly, yuan) each year, and involves hundreds of thousands of people—not insignificant for a country that has just over 23 million people and a GDP of about $427 billion.

The genesis of the move may have been a poll conducted by the Interior Ministry last year, which found that 84.1 percent of those polled either wanted the sex trade conditionally or unconditionally opened up, while just 14.5 percent opposed such a move.

"The government intends to open up the sex industry to a moderate degree to better regulate it in accordance with the majority of public opinions," said Liu Wen-shih, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry. He said that the ministry will submit the legalization proposal to the President's cabinet next month.

Currently, if caught, prostitutes can be fined up to Tw$30,000 (US$1,000), though their customers receive no punishment at all. Under the proposed new law, prostitutes would be allowed to apply for licenses to practice their profession in the authorized zones, but would continue to be fined for turning tricks in other areas.