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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek

MARCH 31, 2000 VOL. 26 NO. 12


COVER: Seismic Changes
Can president-elect Chen Shui-bian meet the historic challenges posed by a changing Taiwan - and by China?
The Challenge: Now comes the hard part
Reality Check: Beijing will have to deal with the new Taiwan
Profile: Chen's split personality

Editorial: Taiwan and China have reason aplenty to make peace
Editorial: Asia needs new policies to combat prostitution

South Asia: Clinton to India and Pakistan - Start Talking
'Limited War': Don't let the term fool you
Philippines: Sister Christine vs. Estrada - yet another scandal
Extended Interview: Salamat Hashim calls for independence
Myanmar: Behind the secret "Chilston" meetings
Inside Story: Asia's "Insiders" - four people who have blown the whistle on wrongdoing
Viewpoint: A Malaysian race for Islamization?

People: Sumo's big brother calls it quits
Heritage: The struggle to save Penang's old George Town
Art: Digital works blur the line between tech and expression
Books: Why healthcare was so bad in Suharto's Indonesia
Health: Noni - The craze over a smelly green fruit
Newsmakers: Thai "List of Shame" riles the privileged

Games: Microsoft's X-factor
Computing: IBM's Deep Blue man is now into e-commerce
Cutting Edge: An e-book horror story

Bankruptcy: The court-ordered restructuring of TPI suggests Thailand is coming to grips with deadbeat borrowers
Room to Improve: Inadequate laws in Indonesia and Korea
No Hype: Can Singapore's Pacific Internet regain investor favor?
Renong: The Malaysian conglomerate sells off key assets
Business Buzz: A deal to lift Singapore's spirits

Investing: How rising U.S. interest rates will affect Asia

Oh, Brothel
Asia must devise a new approach to combat the oldest profession

It may be the oldest profession, but after millennia, prostitution is still heavily proscribed in much of Asia, especially where organized religion wields formidable power. So eyebrows, painted or unpainted, were recently raised at a landmark High Court decision in predominantly Muslim Bangladesh. It declared, after a long legal battle, that "the profession is not illegal since they [prostitutes] do it for a living." Rights advocates cheered the ruling, which added: "The right to livelihood of sex workers is enforceable as a fundamental right." The NGOs had sued authorities over the eviction of thousands of prostitutes from Narayanganj port near Dhaka.

Should Asia be cheering too? Or lamenting a setback for public morals in the face of materialistic priorities? Well, it's not as if any state, except maybe the Vatican, has ever come close to eradicating prostitution within its borders. What is worse, prohibition has often merely allowed criminals to take over and aggravate the vice (as they once did to liquor and gambling, when those industries were banned). And since all that the authorities care to do about prostitutes is to put them in jail, governments are failing to undertake necessary measures to halt the spread of AIDS, such as regular check-ups of sex workers.

So if the Dhaka court decision and similar shifts in the treatment of prostitutes prompt a rethink of anti-prostitution policies in Asia, they would be worth celebrating. At present, Hong Kong, Singapore South Korea and India do not penalize the practice, but regulate it in varying degrees. Hong Kong bans pimping, and Singapore soliciting. Seoul and Singapore confine brothels to certain areas, where sex workers are checked for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Taiwan allows a dwindling number of "licensed" ladies, who are aging fast. But everywhere else, hookers are criminals, bereft of protection and regulation. Yet they keep proliferating, driven by poverty yet often helped by technology like cellphones.

What to do? Well, let's admit that doing nothing is a non-starter - and doing something would mean recognizing that prostitution will never go away and regulating it is the best way to minimize its ill effects. Hungary's experience with a new law legalizing prostitution suggests that it may be better in some countries to allow the vice everywhere except certain areas, rather than the other way around. How much regulation depends on national circumstances and cultures, as well as the action needed to keep AIDS and other STDs in check. Compulsory check-ups for sex workers, female and male, is an obvious must. Freed from having to chase every hooker, the police can focus on the real crimes: child prostitution, trafficking in women, and gangster involvement in the sex trade.

This is not to say that society should give up all efforts to combat prostitution. It remains a threat to the social, spiritual and physical well-being of people, and the sign of a collective failure to uplift personal morals and family life, and to provide fulfilling, well-paying jobs for sizable segments of the population. Better education, family counseling and economic opportunities would do much to minimize the conditions that give rise to prostitution. It is by these measures that the fight against the oldest profession can ultimately be won.

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Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

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COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

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