Taiwan should decriminalize adultery now

Taiwan should decriminalize adultery now

The ICJ today urged Taiwan to decriminalize adultery as soon as possible.

Echoing the UN Human Rights Committee, the UN the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the UN Working Group on discrimination against women in law and practice, the ICJ stated that the criminalization of people who are not married to each other for engaging in consensual sexual relations is a violation of the right to be free from discrimination; the right to equality before the law and equal protection of the law without discrimination; and the right to privacy, among other rights. The criminalization of adultery also often leads to discrimination and violence against women.

The Constitutional Court of Taiwan is currently deliberating on the constitutionality of Article 239 of the Criminal Code, which provides that, “a married person who commits adultery with another shall be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than one year; the other party to the adultery shall be subject to the same punishment.” On 31 March 2020, Taiwan’s Constitutional Court heard oral arguments on the constitutionality of Article 239 after several judges requested an interpretation of the law. The Court is expected to release its opinion on the matter at the end of May.

“In many ways, the ongoing criminalization of adultery leads to dire consequences for women’s human rights in Taiwan,” said Emerlynne Gil, Senior International Legal Adviser of the International Commission of Jurists.

“The enforcement of criminal adultery provisions often leads to discrimination and violence against women. In Taiwan, for example, women are disproportionately the target of adultery lawsuits. While male adultery enjoys greater tolerance in Taiwan, women are being targeted because of harmful gender stereotypes and rigid constructions of femininity.”

The ICJ notes that women are twenty percent more likely to be convicted than men in adultery cases in Taiwan. Furthermore, to secure a conviction on adultery charges in Taiwan, given the criminal law standard of proof, there has been a resort to photographic evidence of the two accused individuals engaging in sexual acts in some cases. As a result, an entire industry of private investigators, often engaging in illegal behaviour, has developed in response to “market” demand for “evidence” capable of making criminal adultery charges stick.

Taiwan is not a Member State of the UN, but in 2009 it introduced legislation aimed at incorporating the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) as a matter of domestic law. In 2013, an International Review Committee composed of independent human rights experts working in their personal capacities recommended that Taiwan should take steps to abolish the adultery provision in its Criminal Code as it was not in conformity with Article 17 of the ICCPR.

“Continuing to criminalize adultery goes against the image that Taiwan wants to portray of itself, that it is a beacon of democracy and human rights in Asia,” Emerlynne Gil said. The ICJ urges Taiwan to decriminalize adultery as soon as possible by removing the above mentioned provision from its Criminal Code.

Additional Information

There have been several challenges in the past to the constitutionality of Article 239 of Taiwan’s Criminal Code. In 2002, in one of such challenges, the Constitutional Court issued Interpretation 554, holding that the freedom of sexual behavior was inseparably related to the personality of individuals, and every person was free to decide whether or not and with whom to have sexual affairs. However, the Court went on to say that such freedom was legally protected only if it was not detrimental to “the social order or public interest”, as provided in Article 22 of the Constitution and, therefore, “the freedom of sexual behavior” was subject to the restriction that marriage and the institution of the family imposed on it.

Download the statement in Mandarin Chinese here.


Boram Jang, ICJ Legal Adviser – Access to Justice for Women, Asia & the Pacific Programme, e: boram.jang(a)icj.org

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