Gov't to extend support for sex workers

SEOUL, Aug. 6 (Yonhap) -- The Cabinet approved a revised bill Tuesday to extend the period former prostitutes can stay in state facilities as part of efforts to beef up support for them.

According to the bill, adult prostitutes will be allowed to stay up to two years in protection facilities, and adolescent sex workers can stay there until they turn 19. Currently, sex workers of any age can use such shelters for only up to one year.

"A considerable amount of time is needed for former sex workers to recover from psychological and physical damages," a gender equality ministry official said. "The ministry will also push to set up community-based facilities to give them chances to recover from their wounds and to stand on their own."

The Cabinet also approved a revised act which stipulates that the gender equality minister is entitled to check if education programs conducted at public organizations and schools to prevent prostitution are properly implemented, and to devise complementary measures deemed necessary to boost their efficiency.

In 2004, the government enacted a special law against prostitution to strengthen crackdowns on and punishment of sex traffickers, a landmark bill in a male-dominated society where men's pursuit of sexual pleasure has largely been condoned as natural.

Since then, the number of those caught buying or selling sex has been on the decrease, with the figure falling from 73,008 in 2009 to 31,247 in 2010 and to 21,123 last year.

Experts, however, say more efforts are needed as the number of female sex workers involved in underground industries and online prostitution far exceeds any official data.

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