Sex zone plan leaves Taiwanese cold

TAIPEI - Taiwan has legalised the creation of red light districts in a bid to regulate the sex industry, but prostitutes themselves say the new law could actually worsen their plight.

Under the law passed by parliament Friday, local governments are allowed to set up special penalty-free sex trade zones, but outside them prostitutes will still be be fined - as, for the first time, will their clients and pimps.

The constitutional court scrapped the previous law punishing only prostitutes on the grounds it was unfair.

But so far no local authority has yet said it will create a legal prostitution area, leaving streetwalkers fearing they face the worst of both worlds.

The new law is a bid to protect women such as Mei Hsiang, a 58-year-old prostitute working the streets of Taipei, but she fears it is more likely to put her out of business.

"As for the zones, I don't know where the local government can set them up, so it's empty talk.

"Punishing the clients is worse than punishing us because the clients will not come for fear of being caught and fined and we won't be able to make a living," she said, her age showing despite a freshly applied layer of make-up.

"I feel hopeless about the future because the police will go after street walkers who are at the bottom of the food chain."

A recent survey of 22 local governments by the mass-circulation Apple Daily newspaper found none supporting the plan, 21 rejecting it and only one still undecided.

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