Constitutionality of law to be reviewed
By Na Jeong-ju
A district court's decision to ask the Constitutional Court to rule on whether part of the country's Anti-Prostitution Law is constitutional has triggered a hot debate among citizens.
At issue is a clause of the law, implemented in 2004, which punishes a woman for having sex for money.
On Wednesday, Judge Oh Won-chan from the Seoul Northern District Court filed the case with the Constitutional Court after accepting a petition from a 41-year-old prostitute on trial for violating the law.
She was accused of having sex with a man in his 20s at a brothel in Seoul in July. The district court clarified that the judge's request doesn't question the part of the law that punishes buyers of sex.
"We don't punish a woman acting as a concubine or a wife for hire," Oh said. "In this regard, the law could violate people's basic rights."
Oh also questioned the effectiveness of the law, saying authorities should focus on punishing brothel owners and pimps exploiting prostitutes.
Under the law, both buyers and sellers of sex face one year in prison or a 3 million won ($2,830) fine, except for those who are forced into prostitution. Those who force women to work as prostitutes are subject to up to 10 years in prison or fines of up to 100 million won.
Proponents of the law claim it is rational for the authorities to punish both sellers and buyers of sex in a country where prostitution is illegal.
However, opponents argue the law could infringe on people's privacy, saying all adults have the right to have sex, which should not be violated by the state.
This is the first time that a court has challenged the Anti-Prostitution Law.
Some people insist the law should be maintained while others are calling for a revision or complete abolishment.
"If the law is ruled unconstitutional, there will be no legal means to punish sex traders," said Min Jong-yun, a 38-year-old office worker in Seoul. "I think prostitution is not like adultery. Of course all adults have the right to have sex, but prostitution is a different matter."
"The prostitutes' claims suggest that we should legalize prostitution and collect taxes from prostitutes. That should never happen," he added.
Women's groups expressed concerns that a ruling against the law could increase the number of prostitutes and create bigger social problems.
"I think it's not a human rights issue at all," said Kim Jeong-sook, chairwoman of the Korean National Council of Women.
"There should be no question about punishing prostitutes in this county. The law is not about regulating sex between adults, but about preventing the sex trade."
"There are already hundreds of thousands of prostitutes in Korea. Prostitution is a big business here although it is illegal," said blogger Song Se-jin. "Under the law, all of them are potential criminals. If they became prostitutes voluntarily, I think they should be respected as members of society."