WASHINGTON, Jan. 4 (UPI) -- Although prostitution is technically illegal, the government in China winks at the sex for sale by women and men, who have grown more brazen in peddling their bodies to foreign diplomats and businessmen, according to a newspaper report Saturday.
Proceeds help fill the coffers of some local governments that levy taxes on the sex trade, and enrich the prostitutes, who can earn as much as double what they would otherwise have received from working in state-owned enterprises, The Washington Post said.
A 24-year-old female prostitute in Shenzhen, which is near Hong Kong, told the Post that she sends home as much as $300 a month, which helps pay for her younger brother to go to school.
"In China, daughters are not very important," she told the Post. "It's the son that matters. Unless I leave (her hometown of Chongqing) and find work, there's no way that my little brother can continue his education." She said she has told her parents she is a waitress -- not a prostitute at a karaoke lounge called Club Butterfly.
A U.S. State Department report estimated that as many as 10 million people in China were involved in prostitution in 2001, the Post said.
Local officials and the local economy get a boost from the sex trade because the prostitutes must pay "tips" to the "mama-sans" who set up the dates and to the taxi drivers and tour agents who bring in the customers, which include visitors from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and Korea.
The prostitutes also must pay some of their income to the local police and to bosses, who in turn dispense some of the funds to "protection syndicates" that ensure that local government doesn't interfere, the Post said, citing unnamed sources. The local government also benefits because it often owns the hotels at which the sex encounters take place, such as the Zhaolong Hotel in Beijing, the Post said.
The rise in the sex trade has brought with it an increase in sexually transmitted diseases. The Chinese government has said that more than 120 million Chinese have hepatitis B and at least 1 million have HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, the Post reported.
Some countries with a thriving sex trade have undertaken safety measures such as encouraging prostitutes to use condoms. In China, however, the government doesn't want to acknowledge publicly that prostitution exists, seeing it as shameful and embarrassing.
"They figure the communist system is the best system in the world so we wouldn't have prostitution," Xu Keyi, of the Di Tan Hospital Research Center for Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Beijing, told the Post.
"It's an ugly thing, and we don't like ugly things."