Confused about the prostitution laws across Asia?
Although prostitution may be widespread in a country, it is not always the case that buying (or selling) sex is legal. In some parts of Asia, contravening these laws may result in a monetary fine but in others you could be facing criminal charges and even a jail sentence.
In this guide, we take a closer look at the various laws across all Asian countries when it comes to aspects of prostitution; from buying sex to using a brothel, procuring, pandering and solicitation.
Prostitution in Asia: Laws
Asia is a vast continent, stretching from Japan in the far east to Turkey which borders Europe in the West. Home to more than half the world’s population, Asia covers more than 50 separate countries, each having their own laws and regulations on prostitution.
As well as prostitution itself, each country also has individual laws on other areas of sex work including:
- Buying sex
- Running brothels
- Procuring (also known as pandering or pimping)
- Solicitation (approaching another person and offering, either your own or someone else’s sexual services)
We have summarized the legal status of prostitution across all of the major countries in Asia below. However, it is important to note that whilst sex work may not be legal in some countries, it may, nevertheless, be prevalent.
Russia, geographically a part of northern Asia, prohibits prostitution but does not punish people for buying sex. Instead, those caught selling their services can face an administrative fine of around 2000 rubles (approx. $30).
Organised sex work such as running a brothel, procuring, pimping, trafficking and pandering is met with much more severe prosecution with offender facing time in jail.
Prostitution in China is illegal but is prevalent in both urban and rural communities. It is estimated that this underground industry generates more than $73 billion in revenue each year and covers the activities of more than 5 million sex workers; a prevalence rate of around 0.36%. In fact, China is the world’s largest market for prostitution and the industry is very well established.
All aspects of sex work are prohibited including brothels, soliciting and procuring but policing can be described as ‘patchy’ at best. There is a complex hierarchy of sex workers in China and, at the upper tiers, very little is done to combat the trade in high class concubines.
Unlike in Mainland China, prostitution in Hong Kong is legal in the form of buying and selling sex using the services of one woman; obtaining the services of more than one woman (or man) constitutes running a brothel which is illegal;
Street prostitution and one-woman brothels are therefore common in order to avoid prosecution but it is reckoned that the majority of sex workers are a part of a ‘vice establishment’.
Advertisement and solicitation is also prohibited.
Hong Kong law also forbids anal sex with anyone under the age of 21.
Prostitution itself is illegal in Japan but buying sex is not. However, it is important to note that Japanese law very specifically defines prostitution as being coital intercourse.
As a result the sale of sex services in Japan is big business and many venues that offer sexual experiences do not contravene the laws. Instead of providing coital services, you can find many clubs, bars and salons that provide alternatives such as handjobs, blowjobs or body rubs.
The industry is huge and is estimated to be worth around $24 billion per year.
Despite the claims made by many sex workers that they are only offering ‘non-coital’ services, prostitution is widespread and between 20% and 40% of Japanese men admit to having paid for sex.
With its own provincial legal system, prostitution in Macau is legal (both buying and selling sex) and the region has the reputation for being the ‘Nevada’ of Mainland China.
You can find prostitutes on the streets or working in place of entertainment such as massage parlors, karaoke bars, casinos and saunas; however, brothels are illegal.
Prostitution is widespread in Mongolia but all forms of sex work are illegal.
Most sex workers operate from saunas and massage parlors with escorts and hotel call girls being popular with tourists. Rural communities with large numbers of male workers such as those around mining industries and coal fields also attract significant populations of prostitutes.
Brothels are also illegal but are raided infrequently and can be found in many parts of the country.
According to the North Korean, there is no prostitution in the country yet there are reports from defectors that the industry is widespread. There are also reports that the state itself sanctions sex workers for the exclusive provision of entertainment for VIPs and officials.
North Korean law prohibits all forms of sex work with punishments of up to two years labour being faced by repeat offenders.
Prostitution and sex work of all forms is also prohibited in South Korea but, unlike its Northern neighbors, boasts a huge sex industry thought to be worth over $13 billion per year.
Despite crackdowns on organised sex rings, brothels and trafficking, the industry is flourishing and almost one in four South Korean men claim to have had their first sexual experience with a prostitute.
Prostitution, outside of specifically designated zones, is illegal in Taiwan. This has been the case since 2011 when special laws were introduced to try and regulate the industry; however, as of 2017, no such ‘special zones’ have been established.
South East Asia
Prostitution in Brunei is illegal and carries punishments which range from fines to imprisonment of up to one year for a first offences (up to three years for subsequent infractions).
Despite being widespread across Cambodia, prostitution in this South East Asian country is illegal.
Managing brothels, pimping and soliciting are also against the law; however, the actual act of exchanging money for sex is not strictly outlawed.
There are an estimated 34,000 sex workers in Cambodia which makes the prevalence rate by population quite high at 0.21%.
There is no specific law against prostitution in Indonesia and on some of the islands, it is not an offence. Legally, the act of selling sex is a ‘crime against morality’ yet you can find prostitutes operating across this island nation; some operating from semi-official brothels.
Bali, in particular, is a hotspot for prostitution and is one of the largest destinations for female sex tourism in Asia.
Sex work is largely tolerated and even when ‘unofficial’ brothels are raided, offenders are thought to simply be able to pay their way out of a jail sentence. For this reason, the authorities are often accused of using sex workers as an additional source of income.
Prostitution is illegal in Laos but, unlike in neighboring Thailand, offenders can risk severe prosecution.
Despite the potential punishments, the sex industry of Laos is widespread and you can find sexual services being offered for sale in all manner of entertainment venues including bars, guest houses and even from restaurants.
Prostitution in Malaysia is not prohibited by law and is quite widespread across the country. However, in areas such as Kelantan and Terengganu, Sharia law prevails and prostitutes risk pubic caning or whipping. In these areas, buying sex is also forbidden although some suggest that these laws are only applied to Muslims.
There are federal laws which prevent brothels, soliciting and making money from another via prostitution. However, you can find illegal brothels, particularly in places like Kuala Lumpur as well as red-light areas and transgender prostitutes.
The sex industry of Malaysia is a large one and it is estimated that the industry generates around $963 million per year supporting more than 150,000 prostitutes.
Prostitution in Myanmar is illegal and is not culturally or socially tolerated. Despite this, the country has quite a large sex market with women selling their services from guesthouses, nightclubs and restaurants. The larger cities, like Mandalay, also have plenty of KTV lounges, massage parlors and bars from where prostitutes can be picked up.
The law is currently under review to decriminalise selling sex in order to protect prostitutes from being sent to detention centres.
Prostitution in the Philippines is illegal but is largely tolerated and quite widespread. Similar to Thailand the authorities mostly turn a blind eye to individuals but organised prostitution can be punished with quite severe sentences including life imprisonment (trafficking).
You can find sex workers in most entertainment venues in the larger Filipino cities.
Prostitution in Singapore is not illegal and is semi-officially regulated. There are aspects of the trade which are against the law including pimping and earning money from another person selling sexual services.
The authorities monitor and screen sex workers at a number of brothels and there are informally designated zones where prostitution is tolerated.
Outside of the brothels and red-light areas, prostitutes found operating from other venues such as massage parlors and bars risk being prosecuted
Though prostitution is technically illegal in Thailand, it is largely tolerated as a part of the important economic industry of tourism. This is more prominent in the cities and in popular international resorts whereas in rural areas, prostitution is not as accepted.
In some areas of Thailand, notably in Phuket, Bangkok and Pattaya, the industry is unofficially regulated.
Thailand’s prostitution industry is one of the largest and most diverse with sex being for sale in bars, clubs, salons and guest houses.
It is reportedly worth over $6.4 billion per year and supports an estimated 250,000 sex workers (conservative).
Prostitution in Timor-Leste is legal but third-party involvement such as owning a brothel, pimping and soliciting is all illegal.
The authorities are mostly tolerant of infractions with the occasional widespread crackdowns and, as such, you can find illegal brothels in the cities.
Prostitution is a serious crime in Vietnam and is strictly outlawed.
Despite the laws forbidding both the sale and purchase of sex (as well as other related activities) the incidence of prostitution is on the rise and the country is fast becoming a popular destination for sex tourism.
This is due, in part, to suggestions that the authorities tasked with curbing the rise of the sex trade are corrupt.
There have been plenty of calls to decriminalize prostitution in Vietnam but these have not been successful.
Known for its conservatism, prostitution in Afghanistan is strictly forbidden by law with punishments of up to 15 years in jail for those found contravening the rules.
Prostitution is a legal and regulated industry in Bangladesh where you can find licensed brothels. However, solicitation and coercion are illegal as is the running of unlicensed brothels.
The legislation for obtaining a license as a prostitute involves each sex worker registering with the state and swearing an affidavit to confirm that they are entering the industry of their own free will as a result of not being able to find alternative work.
Prostitution (both buying and selling sex) is illegal in Bhutan and recent proposals to regulate the industry by Lhak Sam in 2017 were unsuccessful.
All other activities surrounding prostitution in Bhutan are also illegal.
Prostitution in India is legal as long as it takes place in a private residence. Solicitation, running a brothel, pimping, procuring and all other activities around sex work are illegal.
India has the second largest worldwide prostitution market and is thought to include the activities of more than 3 million sex workers generating around $8.4 billion per annum.
The Islamic country of Maldives prohibits prostitution and the ban is, largely, an effective one. Sex work is seen in some parts of the capital, Male, but only on a small scale.
In 2008, prostitution was criminalised in law and other aspects of sex work were also prohibited including running a brothel, pandering, pimping and procuring; basically living off the earnings of someone else selling sex.
Despite the change in law, there are an estimated 68,000 prostitutes working in the country; a prevalence rate of 0.23% which is very high.
Any form or extramarital sex is taboo in Pakistan and it is this cultural and religious belief that has determined the legal status of prostitution.
In some areas of the country, the punishment for prostitution is death yet, despite the harsh consequences, sex work is highly prevalent and, according to some, is an ‘open-secret’. With the support of corrupt police and government officials, underground brothels and organised sex rings make Pakistan’s prostitution industry an extremely active one.
Prostitution in Sri Lanka is illegal in all forms as are any associated activities.
Unlike in neighboring India, the country does not have a large problem with prostitution and there are only an estimated 40,000 sex workers in Sri Lanka.
Prostitution in Armenia is illegal as is the running or brothels and all related activities. Punishments for selling sex are dealt with under administrative laws whilst other offences are a criminal infraction.
The sex industry is largely tolerated by the authorities.
Prostitution is illegal in Azerbaijan and prostitutes face fines if caught trying to sell sex. There is no law against buying sex and, like many Asian countries, it is the prostitute not the client who is charged.
Running a brothel is illegal and owners face up to 6 years in prison if they are caught running an organised commercial sex venue.
Despite the legal situation, prostitution is relatively common in the country and you can find sex workers in all areas of Azerbaijan.
Selling sex and other activities around the sex industry such as running a brothel, pimping and solicitation are all illegal in Bahrain. However, there is no specific law against purchasing the services of a prostitute.
Sex tourism in Bahrain is on the rise and the country has become a bit of a hot spot for easy (or easier) access to prostitutes in the Middle East. This is particularly true for Saudi Arabians who could more easily access the country from the mid-1980s when the Saudi Causeway opened. The country and its capital, Manama, quickly rose to prominence as the ‘sin city’ where the Arab world could enjoy a more relaxed attitude towards sex and alcohol.
Prostitution is illegal in Georgia and is punishable with fines; some prostitutes may also be charged with contraventions of public order offences.
Despite the practice being illegal, prostitution in the country is widespread and resorts on the Black Sea are known for being popular sex tourism destinations, particularly for central Asians and men from Turkey.
Prostitution and all activities around sex work are illegal in Iran and punishments can range from fines to jail sentences.
There are no official figures on the prevalence of the sex industry in Iran but reports from Iranian newspapers suggest that prostitution is widespread, particularly in Tehran.
All aspects of prostitution are illegal in Iraq including buying, selling or pimping.
Punishment for breaking the law can be severe with maximum jail sentences of life imprisonment.
Prostitution is legal in Israel and there are official red-light zones in cities like Tel Aviv.
Whilst buying and selling sex with an individual is not against the law, organised prostitution such as brothels and pimping is illegal.
Selling sex in Jordan is illegal but paying for it is not thus placing the prostitute at risk and not the client. The practice is quite common and there are areas of the capital city, Amman, where street hookers are known to frequent.
Brothels are also illegal but may be found around the larger cities.
Although there are punishments for offenses, the activities are generally overlooked by the authorities; certainly for minor infractions whereas organised prostitution and trafficking carry much more severe punishments.
Prostitution in Kuwait is illegal but prevalent.
Offenders risk fines and prison sentences and may be deported if they are not Kuwaiti nationals.
Technically, prostitution is a licensed and regulated industry in Lebanon but no new licenses have been issued since 1975 making most sex workers and brothels illegal.
To a large extent, the authorities do not intervene with the activities of prostitutes and semi-official super clubs operate in the larger cities like Beirut where prostitutes are known to pick up clients. These clubs are not open to Lebanese women and you can only find foreign hookers working in them. There are regulations about their opening hours and the women’s comings and goings are strictly monitored. These prostitutes are issued with an ‘artiste’s’ visa to enable them to live and work in Lebanon.
All sex outside of marriage in Oman is considered unlawful and prostitution is illegal. Like many Asian countries, it is the prostitute who is penalised for this and not the client. It is worth noting however that foreign nationals who are caught attempting to engage, or engaging, with a prostitute may be deported.
Premarital and extramarital sex is taboo in the Palestinian Territories and prostitution is illegal. However, the city of Ramallah does support a small population of prostitutes.
Prostitution is illegal in Qatar and carries potential punishments of up to three years in prison. It is also worth noting that adultery and sodomy can also carry prison terms of up to ten years.
Just like its neighbors Qatar, prostitution in Saudi Arabia is illegal and carries a prison sentence for those found guilty. Sodomy, adultery and fornication are also illegal and may result in the death sentence.
Foreign nationals are not dealt with under any special consideration but will also face deportation after they have served their sentences.
Prostitution in Syria is illegal but there are no laws preventing the purchase of sexual services.
Prior to the current civil war, Syria was considered a sex tourism destination in the Arab world.
Prostitution in Turkey is legal and regulated with women being required to undergo regular health checks and obtain an ID card for this purpose.
Buying sex is legal and you can do so at licensed brothels or using the services of a registered sex worker. However, condoms are a compulsory requirement.
Despite the regulations, there is a large number of unlicensed prostitutes in Turkey.
United Arab Emirates (UAE)
Despite prostitution being illegal in the UAE, the country has recently been gaining a reputation for being a popular sex tourism destination. This is due, in the main, to the hard-line taken by most of the other Gulf states coupled with the fact that the UAE is a major hub for international businessmen.
Punishment for prostitution in the UAE can be severe and includes incarceration and floggings.
Selling sex in Yemen is illegal but paying for it is not a criminal offence. Activities such as procuring, solicitation and running brothels are all illegal.
Despite potential punishments of up to three years in prison, the country is reported to have a problem with prostitution and has a reputation in the Gulf states for being an ‘easy’ place to pay for sex. Compared to countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia, this is indeed true.
Prostitution in Kazakhstan is legal but there is no official sex industry and organised prostitution in the form of brothels, procuring and solicitation are illegal.
The current laws were a repeal of a former ban under soviet rule which came into effect in January 2001.
The country has a population of around 18 million people and the most recent estimates (2017) suggest that there are anywhere from 4,000-25,000 sex workers in the country, or a rate of 0.02-0.14%.
In Kyrgyzstan prostitution has been legal since 1998 and you can buy and sell sex without fear of criminal prosecution. However, brothels and all forms of organised prostitution are illegal which includes procuring, pimping, solicitation and coercion.
Offenders face jail sentences of up to five years for breaching these laws.
The country has a population of around 6.2 million people with UNAIDS estimating there to be around 7,100 sex workers servicing the prostitution industry, a rate of 0.11%
Like Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, buying and selling sex in Tajikistan is legal but organised prostitution is not.
Solicitation is not a criminal offence but an administrative one with sex workers facing a nominal fine and short jail sentences or house arrest. Procuring is more of a serious crime and offenders can risk up to eight years in jail.
Official government estimates of sex workers in Tajikistan is low at around 1,800 prostitutes but UNAIDS believe this figure to be almost 14,000. With a population of around 8.92 million, this figure represents around 0.16%.
Prostitution and all forms of sex work are forbidden in Turkmenistan; however, you will not face prosecution for buying sex.
Around a decade ago, there were claims that the government was response for a form of ‘state prostitution’ with good looking women in their late teens being sent to the provinces for ‘training’. According to reports, their role was to ‘entertain’ state officials and VIPs and, once chosen, were not able to refuse the ‘honor’.
Punishments for prostitution are quite harsh and repeated offenders face up to 2 years in prison. Procuring, soliciting and running brothels can also be punished with up to 5 years in prison (8 for repeat offenders).
There are no official estimates as to the number of sex workers in Turkmenistan.
It is worth knowing that, due to reports of police corruption, foreigners who are seen in the company of known prostitutes may be subject to harassment and be ‘fined’.
As in Turkmenistan, selling sex and all forms of prostitution in Uzbekistan are illegal but there are no laws to punish those buying sex.
There are estimated to be around 22,000 sex workers in the country or around 0.068% of the population.
Summary of Prostitution in Asian Countries
Solicitation and procuring are largely illegal in all countries across Asia but the status of prostitution, buying sex and brothels can be summarized as follows:
|India||Legal but Restricted||ILLEGAL|
|Indonesia||Legal in some areas|
|Taiwan||Only legal in some ‘zones’||ILLEGAL|
|United Arab Emirates (UAE)||ILLEGAL||ILLEGAL||ILLEGAL|
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