Mounting Poverty, Health Risks for China’s Sex Workers

In an attempt to escape poverty, women in China are increasingly turning to prostitution and competition for clients has reportedly resulted in lower pay and more dangerous conditions for China’s estimated ten-million sex workers.

Although prostitution is technically illegal in China, freelance sex workers operate openly throughout the country at every level of society, the International Herald Tribune reports. They work in bars and state-owned hotels as well as in poor neighborhoods. Although open prostitution in China is common today, it was nearly nonexistent a quarter of a century ago, reports Asian studies scholar Jinghao Zhou in China: an International Journal. The recent resurgence of prostitution, he says, comes from economic changes that have taken place in China over the last three decades — rapid urbanization due to globalization, and the reform of China”s market economy.

Sociology and AIDS Policy Professor Jing Jun told the Washington Post that China’s thriving sex trade is tied to the country’s poor economy. “A lot of these women send half their income back to support their families,” he said. “Prostitution is not fundamentally connected to a lack of values but a lack of jobs, choices, opportunities and education.” Health experts worry about heightened medical risks for increasingly desperate women — some earning just over $1 per session — who cannot afford to lose clients. Fearing loss of business, many sex workers give in when their clients refuse to wear a condom, according to the Post. In 2006, less than 40 percent of sex workers used condoms according to Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention surveys.

LEARN MORE Read about women’s rights and sex work in China in the Summer 2007 issue of Ms., on newsstands now

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The Washington Post 8/5/07; International Herald Tribune 12/14/06; Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention 11/29/06;

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