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Spotlight Series: HIV Stigma and Discrimination
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Chinese Prostitutes Raise AIDS Risk

September 7, 2006

Police who use condoms as an excuse to arrest Chinese prostitutes who flock to Hong Kong in large numbers risk fueling a rise in STDs including HIV/AIDS, social workers warned. Sex workers in Hong Kong are frequently questioned by police, searched, detained and expelled if condoms are found on them, groups that counsel prostitutes reported. This is prompting many sex workers from mainland China to not carry condoms for fear they will be caught, they said.

Condoms are legal in Hong Kong and laws there do not empower police to detain anyone found with prophylactics on their person. Prostitution is legal; however, foreigners violate the conditions of their stay in Hong Kong if they are caught working.

"Police must stop using condoms as an excuse to arrest women because this makes women vulnerable to disease," said Elaine Lam of Ziteng, a commercial sex worker group. "The government is contradicting itself. Although the Health Department is promoting condom use, the police [are] using it to prosecute sex workers," added Loretta Wong of AIDS Concern.

According to UNAIDS, some 650,000 people in mainland China have HIV/AIDS, but only 32,500 are classified as female sex workers. Social workers who work with prostitutes say this figure is a gross underestimation. Ziteng estimates there are 300,000 prostitutes in Hong Kong at any given time, half of whom are mainland Chinese.

Ziteng offers sex workers free health screenings, and in 2005 seven of 58 women tested were positive for sexually transmitted human papillomavirus. Six of the seven women were mainland Chinese.

Lam noted that many of these women are traveling further in a desperate attempt to earn money. "We see them going everywhere after transiting in Hong Kong," she said. "Malaysia, Singapore, Italy, Japan, Australia, Taiwan," Lam added.

Back to other news for September 7, 2006

Adapted from:
08.15.2006; Tan Ee Lyn

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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