China ends illegal jail term, forced labour for sex workers, clients
China has abolished the extrajudicial detention for up to two years without trial of sex workers and clients known as “custody and education”, a practice long criticised by human rights groups and lawyers.
Prostitution remains illegal in the mainland, state media reported; it also remains widespread.
The “detention and re-education for those involved in prostitution” program, which had existed for nearly three decades, was recommended for abolition in December 2018 by the Legislative Affairs Commission of China’s National Peoples’ Congress – the country’s rubber-stamp Parliament -- Standing Committee (NPCSC).
“China’s top legislature Saturday voted to abolish the ‘custody and education’ system, a penalty reserved for law violations related to prostitution. The decision was passed at the end of a six-day bimonthly session of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee. The decision will go into effect Sunday,” official news agency, Xinhua said in a report.
“The ‘custody and education’ system was abolished, but prostitution is still illegal under the law on penalties for the administration of public security,” the report said, adding that China’s Criminal Law stipulates the crimes and penalties for organising and forcing prostitution
The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post (SCMP) quoted NGO Asia Catalyst as saying that “…more than 300,000 people were detained in custody and education between 1987 and 2000”.
Beijing doesn’t publish regular numbers of detainees but mainland media had earlier reported a steady decrease in detentions in recent years, resulting in the closures of some detention facilities.
“The ‘custody and education’ measures have been less applied in practice as China’s legal system keeps improving and the law-based governance advances,” the Xinhua report added.
The system had come under sharp criticism from groups like the Human Rights Watch but the Xinhua report said it had helped to maintain a “good social atmosphere”.
“The ‘custody and education’ system has played an important role in maintaining a good social atmosphere and public order since its introduction more than 20 years ago,” it said.
The ‘custody and education” system to jail sex workers and clients was similar to another controversial extrajudicial punishment that China has gone on to abolish: The re-education through labour system, which was abolished in 2013.
The controversial system, commonly known as ‘Laojiao’ in China began in the 1950s, and it used to take in minor offenders whose offence wasn’t severe enough to take them to court.
The system had come under countrywide criticism – and widely reported in the state media -- that year when Tang Hui, a 40-year-old mother was put in the program in central China’s Hunan province, for petitioning for harsher punishments for those found guilty of raping her daughter and forcing her into prostitution.
The same year a court ruled in her favour after she sued the local government for infringing upon her personal freedom and causing psychological damage.