|Prostitution in Incheon's Michuhol-gu district may receive a government subsidy worth 22.6 million won a year if they want to leave the industry. Korea Times file|
By Ko Dong-hwan
An Incheon district's plan to use 22.6 million won of taxpayers' money to support prostitutes wanting to start a new life is under fire from concerned citizens.
Michuhol-gu district in the port city west of Seoul said Thursday it would announce on Sept. 17 a plan to save women in prostitution. The district office said it would offer up to 22.6 million won ($20,200) within a year to each woman who wants to leave the industry, illegal in South Korea, to find a legal job. The plan is open for prostitutes who submit a letter of confirmation that they wish to leave the sex trade and a written plan of rehabilitation and employment. The money on offer includes a 1 million won monthly living allowance, 7 million won for rent and 300,000 won a month for vocational training.
The district office aims to help prostitutes concentrated in a red light district called "Yellow House" in Sungui-dong. The local sex trade, prosperous until the late 1990s, started going downhill in 2004 when sex trade became illegal and the number of sex workers and customers was sharply reduced.
The district plans to demolish the clubs still remaining and turn the region into an apartment complex. The saving plan targets prostitutes who will lose their jobs following the facelift.
However, the plan is under fire for being too generous with taxpayers' money. Opponents point out that compared to an annual maximum of 1.5 million won for a single household with an extremely low income and a maximum of 3 million won for young adults seeking jobs, 22.6 million won for retiring prostitutes was hard to understand.
"Of course some of the unlucky ones must have had no choice but to become a prostitute, but not all women choose to work in prostitution because of their financial hardships," said a person signing an anti-subsidy petition at Cheong Wa Dae. "The city is now trying to root out the prostitution problem with our tax money when it hadn't even invested enough on crackdown efforts before. The idea is just hard to swallow."
Others said the subsidy was nothing but a "kickback" for sex workers. The critics noted that the district's particular problem of low self-sustainable financial competence that is below 20 percent, dubbing the subsidy "excessive."
But others support the subsidy, saying it would help the women because it was "difficult for them to join society without government support." They also said supporting the women would contribute to transforming the slum into a better living environment.
A similar plan is also being considered for other cities, including Daegu, Gwangju, Asan and Jeonju.
A Michuhol-gu district office official told Segye Ilbo that the subsidy was only for those who were willing to change their past, adding the office would "confiscate the money from those who continued living off prostitution."