About Sex Worker Incarceration in China

Zi Teng is a sex workers concern organization in Hong Kong. We believe that every human being should have the same basic human regardless of her/his background and gender, and should enjoy the right to live with respect and dignity. We thus work much to ensure women, who are often less privileged and vulnerable to violence and disease, to live in a carefree and desirable environment. We particularly support and concern the women living and working in undesirable conditions and areas, with much of our concern goes to sex workers. During the past few years, Zi Teng has begun to develop projects not only in Hong Kong, but also in Macau, Mekong region, and China. Our projects in China are centered on health and occupational safety issues, with the medical departments one of our partners. We provide education, medical assistances and self-protection knowledge for sex workers. Recently, we are working much to train Mainland service providers and social workers.

In regards to Dr Joseph D. Tucker and Xin Ren’s article titled ‘Sex Worker Incarceration in the People’s Republic of China’, we would like to add a few more facts.

Dr Tucker and Xin Ren suggest in the article that incarcerated sex workers in China are excluded from domestic and international HIV programs, and they are more exposed to syphilis than those who are not incarcerated because they are “not present to health care services as early as women I the community who have greater access to routine STI prevention and treatment.”

In fact, there are NGOs working with the incarcerated sex workers on STD prevention and education, but the programs are not effective neither because of the program nor the incarcerated sex workers, it is because of the system itself and the people adopting and implementing it. According to the Re-education law, the re-education through labor (RTL) centers are especially catered to people who are found to have STI or HIV-positive. People will undergo the mandatory health check and treatment in the RTL centers. However, in practice, these people are often excluded from the RTL centers. They have to go to the doctors and take care of their medical fees. If one cannot afford the medical treatment, the authority will ask her/his family to pay for it. The main reason behind is to lower the administration costs, and to prevent the spread of diseases to other persons in the RTL centers. Because of this exclusion, STI/HIV-infected people/sex workers are hardly found in the re-education centers, the HIV-programs cannot benefit the incarcerated sex workers. Those who really need the attention and treatment provided in the RTL centers actually have no chance to get the service at all. If there is better implementation of the re-education law, incarcerated sex workers can still be benefited. The implementation of law is indeed the biggest reason leading to the vulnerability of incarcerated sex workers as well as the ineffectiveness of HIV programs.

The article authors further mention in the article that police crackdowns on sex workers and the confiscation of condoms to secure criminal conviction of prostitution discourages sex workers from using condoms. This also shows how the implementation problem adversely affects sex workers. In fact, the State Council has promulgated a set of principles which forbids the police from using condoms as evidence. Yet, the fact is that sex workers in China are always arrested or even framed by the police with condoms. Take for an example: while one NGO working on HIV-prevention distributes free condom to some sex workers at the front door, the latter will soon be arrested by the police at the back door.

Presently, the implementation problem exists also in the HIV/AIDS policy. Though the ‘4 Free 1 Care’ policy aims to provide more support and service for the people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA), and to eliminate discrimination against PLWHA, the implementation is problematic and impractical in the sense that it requires the service seeker to provide her/his identity. Even though the service seeker is exempted from paying for the medical fees, local hospitals and clinics are often reluctant to bear the medical costs and say ’no ’ to the service seekers. On the other hand, even though the service seekers are excluded and discriminated by the hospitals and clinics, they can go to no one to file a complaint or to seek for assistance.

The article authors express their optimistic point of view in the article that there will be more improvement in the protection of incarcerated sex workers’ sexual and human rights. They also implicitly urge the Chinese government to let more community based and NGO groups working in the country. Nonetheless, the Chinese government has stopped processing the NGOs registration to reduce the impact these groups brought to the society. The hope to have more community based or NOG groups will thus not become true in the near future.

Unless there is better implementation of the law and policy, the situation of sex workers in China will not be improved. At the same time, it is also necessary to set up some independent organizations or departments to monitor the implementation of the law and policy. Good law should not exist only in written document, but exist explicitly in reality.

The Corresponding Author has the right to grant on behalf of all authors and does grant on behalf of all authors, an exclusive licence (or non exclusive for government employees) on a worldwide basis to the BMJ Publishing Group Ltd to permit this article (if accepted) to be published in STI and any other BMJPGL products and sublicences such use and exploit all subsidiary rights, as set out in our licence (http://sti.bmjjournals.com/ifora/licence.pdf ).