Cover Photo: Korean sex workers, wearing traditional costumes, attend a protest against the police crackdown on brothels in Chuncheon, about 100 km (62 miles) northeast of Seoul May 31, 2011. Reuters/Lee Jae Won.
Sex Work and the Law in Asia and the Pacific
The United Nations published a new report that investigates laws, HIV and human rights in the context of sex work. The report is a collaboration of UNDP and UNFPA, in partnership with UNAIDS, the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW) as well as other community sex worker organizations and individuals.*
“The report is intended to provide an evidence-base for: policy makers working in government, regional and multilateral organizations; parliamentarians; members of the judiciary; civil society organizations; donor agencies; and sex workers and their organizations engaged in advocacy to improve the legal and policy enabling environment for HIV responses. The study focuses on 48 countries of the Asia-Pacific region, with an emphasis on low and middle-income countries.” – Page 9
Sex Work and the Law in South Korea (pp. 110-112)
All forms of sex work are criminalized. Prior to 2004, the law defined sex workers as morally degenerate and imposed penalties for ‘protection of sexual morality’. However, this law was rarely enforced. In 2004, more severe penalties were introduced by the Act on the Punishment of Acts of Arranging Sexual Traffic and Enforcement Decree of the Act on the Prevention of Sexual Traffic and Protection, etc. of Victims Thereof.
The Act on the Punishment of Acts of Arranging Sexual Traffic defines sexual traffic to include sexual intercourse in exchange for money or goods (Article 2). Therefore, sex work is defined as a form of trafficking. The penalty for anyone who has been engaged in sexual traffic is imprisonment for not more than one year or a fine not exceeding 3 million won (Article 21). This provision criminalizes both sex workers and their clients. Persons who are coerced into providing sexual services are not liable to be punished (Article 6(1)).
Other offences include soliciting, arranging, enticing, recruiting and providing premises for the purposes of sex work (Articles 2 and 19). Advertising a sexual traffic business shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than 3 years or by a fine not exceeding 30 million won (Articles 19(1) and 20).
The penalty for operating a sexual traffic business is imprisonment for not more than 7 years or a fine of not more than 70 million won (Article 19 (2)).
In 2006 the Constitutional Court referred to prostitution as ‘a low and mean occupation’ that is harmful to public morals. The Court upheld criminal penalties relating to recruiting people to work in the sex industry.
The Constitutional Court has also declared that the offence of providing a place for the purpose of trafficking in sex is constitutional, citing the UN Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others, which the Korean government signed in 1962. The Constitutional Court in 2011 ruled that adults engaged in ‘sexual traffic’ are subject to punishment because they are able to earn a living by means of a variety of occupations except for sex work.
5.8.2 Law enforcement practices
From 1984-2004, the government tolerated the sex industry provided that sex workers registered with health authorities and operated in specific red-light areas. Sex workers were required to be tested for STIs periodically and for HIV every six months. The government authorized the Korean Tourist Association to license bars or kisaeng (professional entertainer) houses near U.S. military bases and tourist enclaves. The government provided the workers based at these licensed entertainment establishments with STI and HIV testing. After the introduction of the anti-trafficking law that criminalized sex work in 2004, this practice ended and sex workers became reluctant to register for STI testing and treatment due to fear of prosecution. Data on sex workers registered for STI examinations show a rapid decrease from 5,922 in 2003 to 2,632 in 2004. In 2006 only 1,914 sex workers were registered, a reduction of nearly 70 percent since 2003. There was also a reduction in the overall number people seeking testing and treatment for STIs. The number of people seeking STI treatment at health offices declined from 156,000 in 2003 to 117,000 in 2006.
Police crackdowns from 2004-2009 resulted in arrest of approximately 28,000 sex workers, 150,000 clients, and 27,000 sex business owners. It is estimated that 4 percent of the arrested people were sentenced to imprisonment. The Ministry of Justice operates schools for convicted male clients of sex workers who may attend seminars in lieu of punishment.
The Ministry of Justice reported that 99,958 men were sent to the ‘john school’ programme as an alternative to prosecution from 2005 to 2009. The programme aims to prevent clients from reoffending.
The Korean sex workers organization, Giant Girls**, describes the adverse effects of criminalization as follows:
Strict enforcement of regulations and severe punishment for the sexual traffic makes sex workers even more vulnerable in a relationship with business owners or clients. For instance, sex workers, in a legally disadvantageous position, can be forced to have sexual intercourse without using a condom by clients who would threaten to report to the police unless sex workers comply with their unfair request. Sex workers cannot easily report to the police if they become victims of assault or deception by clients or sex business owners. In other words, they are not under protection of the laws. Sex workers can be abused physically and verbally if they are taken to the police. Police sometimes take their naked photos or sex photos under the pretext of collecting and securing evidence.
‘Red-light districts’ (where brothels are densely concentrated) are being closed down and demolished in redevelopment areas, in the process of reinforcing elimination of the sexual traffic. In 2011, 42 brothels located in Yongdeungpo, Seoul were designated for removal, which triggered sex workers’ intense resistance.
5.8.3 Efforts to improve the legal environment
The Korean Sex Workers Network (Giant Girls) was established in 2009 by a group of sex workers who advocate for decriminalization of sex work. The group collaborates with human rights activists to campaign against the criminalization of sex work. The group also works to remove the social stigma associated with sex work through media interventions.
(End of excerpt. Please view the report for all annotations.)
“New UN report takes a stark look at links between sex work, HIV and the law in Asia and the Pacific”
— UNDP Press Release URL
* Shishuder Jonno Amra and Tree Foundation, Bangladesh; Women’s Network for Unity (WNU), Cambodia; China Sex Worker Organization Network Forum, China; Survival Advocacy Network, Fiji; Durbar Mahila Samanwya Committee (DMSC), India; Indonesian Social Changes Organization (OPSI), Indonesia; Asia-Pacific Transgender Network (APTN) Malaysia; Population Services International Targeted Outreach Program (PSI/TOP), Myanmar; Blue Diamond Society (BDS) and Jagriti Mahila Maha Sangh (JMMS), Nepal; Friends Frangipani PNG; Empower and SWING, Thailand.
Pegged as the Freedom Festival, the central theme will be the “seven freedoms” that sex workers are entitled to including freedom of movement and to migrate, to access quality health services, to work and choose occupation, to associate and unionise, to be protected by the law; freedom from abuse and violence, from stigma and stigma and discrimination.
The sessions will begin in the morning and will run through till 10.30 at night to provide an overlap of 5 hours with the Washington conference sessions and Global Village activities. A video link has been arranged every evening starting 6.30pm between Kolkata and the Washington conference sessions and the Global Village activities.
The conference hub at Kolkata has been organised to hold a plenary and several small group sessions. In addition, arrangements have been made for a global village to facilitate informal exchanges between sex worker groups from India and other nations. Entry and participation for the community is free of cost. The Hub will act as a true space for community exchange, cultural performance and sharing.
National: 300 representatives from about 20 organizations from Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Manipur, Nagaland, Gujarat, Rajasthan and West Bengal.
International: 120 representatives from 66 organizations from 47 countries of Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America, North America and Caribbean.
The morning sessions at the Hub, will involve technical presenters but will be dominated community presenters from India and other countries sharing their experiences, learning and discussing the way forward. The sessions will be on the topics that will feature later in the evening in the satellite links with the Washington conference. Sessions for Sex Workers Sessions on the Pre conference day (21 July) are sharing by male and transgender sex worker, sex workers living with HIV; which will then be followed by the live link with Washington which will feature sharing by male and transgender sex workers and sex workers living with HIV and AIDS. The morning session of the second day (22 July) has an interesting debate on Media’s response to the sex workers rights agenda. This will be followed by the opening ceremony and community cultural performances. The keynote address and plenary session will focus on the theme “Sex Workers Rights are Human Rights” and followed by a community discussion on the seven freedoms. This will be followed by a Sex worker Session in Washington which is a Call to Action, with Global Sex Workers recommending policy changes for better HIV prevention and treatment. Speakers from the Kolkata will also present and exchange their views through the satellite link. From 23 to 27 July each of the seven freedoms will feature as topics of presentation and community discussion at the Hub. These include
- Legal protection required for sex workers and promoting access to social protection schemes (23 July morning and satellite link with Washington session)
- Strengthening an enabling environment to protect sex workers
(24 July morning session only)
- Ensuring financial security and sex worker led responses to migration and trafficking
(25 July, morning and satellite link with Washington session)
- Seeking social justice and livelihoods
(26 July morning and satellite link with Washington session)
On 25th July an interesting discussions is scheduled on Rights, Governance and Accountability in the Sex Work movement (by AINSW and DMSC) which will be followed by the live webcast link to the Washington session on using the Universal Periodic Review mechanism of UN to ensure accountability for the rights of sex workers and LGBT communities.
Sessions for People Using Drugs
The program has three sessions for communities of drug users including messages from the Drug users hub in Kiev (23 July afternoon); Messages from Kolkata (24 July afternoon) and a plenary session presentation via satellite from Washington, Dynamics of the epidemic in context (26 July evening).
Sessions on the HIV Response
Sessions focused on the HIV epidemic, response and treatment include a symposium of sex workers interventions in NACP IV (24 July morning); treatment knowledge (24, 25, 26 July morning); HIV, STI testing and treatment (25 July early evening). The conference will be interspersed with cultural performances, rallies (24 July), an India evening (25th July).
The Global Village is a diverse and vibrant space where community gathers from all over the world to meet, share and learn from each other. It is a space for community to demonstrate the Rights based approach to health and development. It is also a space that invites conference participants to see how sex workers across the globe facilitated and headed the community actions and interventions. This would be first of its kind where DMSC, the largest sex workers collective will be the host of the Global village. The Global Village is a community-driven and community– focused space designed to promote dialogue, support networking, build solidarity, and promote inclusion in the global community. The Global Village facilitated the exchange of knowledge and information related to all facets of the human feelings, experience, expressions and response to HIV. The Global Village promotes networking between north and south, east and west and provides a space for displays, discussions and performances from throughout the world. The Global Village is open to conference delegates.
Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC), a community based organization of the sex workers of West Bengal, which for the last two decades has been running eleven HIV/AIDS targeted intervention program in 51 sex worker sites. Durbar run SHIP (Sonagachi HIV Intervention Programme) programme has been awarded as model project by World Health Organization. The Global Network of Sex Workers Project (NSWP) which was established as an informal alliance in 1990 by a group of sex worker rights activists working within sex work projects around the world. Over the years, NSWP has conducted activities in partnership with other organizations, and the principle of the participation of sex workers in policy and programme development has been accepted at many levels.
The conference will be held in Swabhumi, on the Eastern fringe of Kolkata and sessions will run parallel in four auditoriums.