The provision of safe sex education for prostitutes by health authorities in Harbin has come under attack with police and some residents of the city arguing that such an initiative gives legitimacy to the illegal trade.
The disease prevention and control center of Harbin, capital of northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, held a lecture last Wednesday on AIDS and safe sex for more than 50 women involved in the city's sex trade, according to the Harbin Daily.
The two-hour class covered AIDS prevention, the importance of using a condom and how to use one properly and, for the first time, permitted the sex workers to discuss their occupation openly.
Afterward staff distributed boxes of free condoms and gave out the center's telephone number in case there were further questions or problems in the future.
Some residents of the city questioned the scheme. "If you provide a lecture to sex workers publicly, does that mean prostitution has been recognized (as legal)?" the newspaper quoted a woman surnamed Huang as saying.
"While public security authorities are making efforts to wipe out prostitution, disease control authorities teach them (sex workers) how to protect themselves when they are doing illegal business," Huang said.
The center noted that prostitution did exist despite continued police efforts to crack down on the sex trade, and distributing information about diseases and prevention was a practical and realistic approach to the issue.
Wen Yingchun, an official in charge of the center's AIDS prevention and control division, said sex workers were among those who are most vulnerable to the disease and other sexually transmitted diseases. "If we neglect this group of people it's irresponsible," Wen said.
The sex workers said they were strongly in favor of such lectures. An unnamed prostitute said she hadn't realized how significant a risk she was taking with AIDS and hadn't known how to protect herself before the lecture.
An entertainment venue manager who took several sex workers to the event said he would take part again as long as police aren't involved.
Police, however, said the center's intentions were good but the lectures could prove embarrassing to public security authorities.
(Xinhua News Agency October 16, 2006)