Although prostitution is technically illegal in China, reports show it is slowly becoming a profitable industry.
The 2001 U.S. State Department human rights report for China estimates 10 million people are involved in the industry in one way or another, as a consequence of China's ongoing economic transition from communism to capitalism. As state-run businesses close down or downsize, unemployed women, and even men-especially from the rural areas-are forced to enter the sex trade thriving in cities like Shanghai, Beijing and Shenzhen.
Health workers, however, are wary of the government's hands-off policy on prostitution, fearing the rapid spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Xu Keyi from the Di Tan Hospital Research Center for Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Beijing believes that China should emulate other countries by developing programmes to spread awareness on safe sex and encouraging sex workers to use condoms.
Government statistics show around 120 million Chinese are presently infected with hepatitis B, and at least one million are HIV positive. The number of victims with full-blown AIDS however, is unavailable as of this writing. Cases of gonorrhoea, syphilis and chlamydia have also increased by more than 30 percent annually since 1995. Experts speculate that these numbers are not accurate and fear the exact figures are much higher than reported.
Until China initiates a policy or programme addressing the twin problems of prostitution and unemployment, experts conclude the two situations will continue to feed on each other.