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TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan began a process of legalizing prostitution Wednesday making the island the latest place in the world to decriminalize the world's oldest profession.
In six months, authorities will stop punishing Taiwan sex workers after prostitutes successfully campaigned to be given the same protection as their clients, a government spokesman said.
"Now the client gets off free, but the prostitute gets punished, and that's not fair," spokesman Su Jun-pin said.
Taiwan's cabinet will issue regulations within six months, when new regulations take effect, covering locations in Taiwan approved for prostitution.
"It's like fishing," Su said. "The activity may be legal, but in some places you can't do it."
Taiwan outlawed prostitution 11 years ago, but older sections of the capital Taipei still teem with underground sex workers in bars and night clubs on the upper floors of high-rise buildings.
The Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters, a Taipei-based advocacy group, estimates that 600,000 people are involved in sex-related jobs.
"It's something the public has wanted for 12 years," said Collective CEO Chung Chun-tsu. "More and more people are agreeing with this consensus."
Local religious groups, however, have opposed the move.
Taiwan is the latest place to legalise prostitution.
New Zealand allowed brothels to operate freely in 2003, when parliament narrowly voted to overturn 100-year-old sex laws. A court in Bangladesh decriminalized the trade in 2000, but for women only.
Reporting by Ralph Jennings; Editing by Bill Tarrant