Prosecutors voice support for decriminalization of adultery

03/31/2020 07:12 PM
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Taipei, March 31 (CNA) Several prosecutors in Taiwan voiced support for decriminalizing adultery on Tuesday as Taiwan's Constitutional Court was hearing arguments that treating adultery as a crime is unconstitutional.

Eighteen judges and a defendant in an adultery case have asked the court several times over the years for a constitutional interpretation of Article 239 of the Criminal Code, and the court finally agreed to hear the case on Tuesday.

The article stipulates that a married person who commits adultery and the other party to the adultery shall be sentenced to prison for less than one year, but there can be no trial without a complaint from the alleged victim.

A head prosecutor, who spoke to CNA on condition of anonymity, said that while it may seem Article 239 is necessary to keep families intact, in reality, it does not help reduce divorce rates.

Considering that the court proceedings also waste judicial resources and force spouses to confront each other in court, it is questionable whether criminalizing adultery is even necessary, he said.

Another problem, the source said, is that judges often require alleged victims to prove their spouses had sex with a third party, which can force complainants to violate privacy laws when trying to collect evidence.

If the complainant is then counter-sued for violating privacy laws, the question of who is actually punished during court proceedings for adultery becomes murky, he said.

Another head prosecutor told CNA that the punishment for committing adultery is meaningless, as the sentence imposed is almost always commutable to a fine.

"How could a change in one's feelings possibly be altered by a fine of some hundreds of thousands of dollars?" she questioned, adding that a verdict could not help rebuild a relationship when it is already broken beyond repair.

Meanwhile, a head prosecutor at the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) told CNA that Taiwanese society has yet come to a consensus over whether to decriminalize adultery.

The most recent government-led public opinion poll on the topic was posted on an Executive Yuan website in 2016, according to Lin Ying-tzu (林映姿).

A total of 10,755 people participated, with 85 percent of them opposed to the decriminalization of adultery, Lin said, while a Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation poll in 2017 found that 69 percent of people were opposed.

Lin said most people seem to be opposed to the idea of decriminalizing adultery based on social morality and may find it hard to accept if the law were immediately abolished.

The Coalition for the Happiness of our Next Generation, a nongovernmental organization that led the charge against same-sex marriage in referendums held in November 2018, said it opposed decriminalization of adultery.

The group argued in a statement that the law "strengthens people's respect of marriage and protects the institution of marriage and the family."

The group rejected the argument that the article should be abolished if it fails in its stated purpose to deter people from committing adultery.

"If we follow this logic, then we should also abolish homicide-related laws if they cannot prevent people from committing murder," it said.

(By Hsiao Po-wen, Liu Shih-i, Chang Hsiung-feng, and Chiang Yi-ching)

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