Korean Overseas Sex Traders To Be Stripped Of Passports

Bae Ji-sook

The government announced a plan to seize the passports of people caught buying sex overseas, following recent news reports that a growing number of South Korean men are being arrested for the sexual exploitation of trafficked women while traveling abroad. For instance, 30 South Koreans citizens have been detained in China for buying sex as of July this year, up from 11 last year.

The government plans to legislate a passport revision bill that would enable it to confiscate the passports of locals involved in international sex trafficking, officials said.

The revision bill, approved by the Cabinet on Sept. 4, has been submitted to the ongoing National Assembly session.

The measures will be jointly applied by the prosecution and the police along with the Justice Ministry, the Ministry of Gender Equality, the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

In Korea the Special Regulation Law on Prostitution legally punishes those involved in sex trade.

However, controversial voices are being raised over the three-year-old law intended to protect women in the sex industry and punish the owners of illegal brothels.

Since its implementation on Sept. 24, 2004, the law raised public awareness about the industry, but drove people involved further underground, critics said. They are now questioning its effectiveness.

In the early days of implementation, police cracked down on infamous red-light areas such as ``Miari Texas'' in northern Seoul, shutting down many brothels. Even neighboring shop owners protested the action saying they could not make living anymore.

However, three years later, some say prostitution has evolved in a new direction. The Internet has become the place where pimping takes place and new outlets under names such as ``massage shops,'' or ``herb shops,'' are opening even in residential areas.

In May 2006 a survey found 2,663 women working in 1,097 traditional type brothels where women sit in front of glass show windows waiting to be picked. However, the number of people now involved in prostitution is estimated to have increased three times, experts presumed. New outlets offer a variety of ``services'' including escort services and phone sex.

Online prostitution lures not only adults, but teenagers, too. Also, the presence of outlets in residential areas gives easy access to underage people.

The life of workers has not improved either. News has emerged that increasing numbers of women sex-workers have committed suicide owing to frustration or increasing debt. Though they want to get out, their heavy debt carrying high interest rates forces them to remain in the business, civic activists working to help them say.

According to the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, 60.3 percent of 1,234 men and 773 women interviewed said they believed overseas prostitution would increase. Also, 29.1 percent said the sex industry here would expand, which was more than the 21.3 percent who believed it would shrink.

The law played a positive role in raising awareness about sex issues the ministry said. According to the survey, 75.2 percent said they saw prostitution as a social crime, higher than last year's 54.6 percent. About 570 men who paid for sex said they had frequented prostitutes less this year.

The ministry also claimed that the law reduced the number of brothels by 41 percent and female sex workers by 55 percent. It said 35,000 people were caught paying for sex and 560 women illegally held inside brothels had been freed.

Also, it claimed that the law helped women involved in the business to rehabilitate. A total of 1,200 women took job training that gave them certificates in computer skills or hair dressing to help them to start a new life, and 1,100 people had got new jobs or pursued academic careers.

Rep. Moon Hee of the main opposition Grand National Party said that what was needed was to help women who want to get out of prostitution start a new life and let people know that prostitution does not bring happiness. ``That will be the most effective way to cut down prostitution and the illegal sex trade,'' she said at a symposium held Wednesday to evaluate the performance of the law.

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