Taiwan: The liberal democracy where adultery remains a crime

Wendy had just moved in with her new partner when the couple found themselves unexpectedly charged with a crime: criminal adultery.

The old childhood friends had started seeing each other after Wendy, a dual Taiwanese-American citizen in her 40s, returned to the island.

Her partner had already initiated a separation from his Taiwanese wife after their marriage broke down.

But in Taiwan, where divorce typically requires mutual consent, his decision to move in with Wendy meant their actions could be considered a crime.

“We were really freaking out because we had no idea,” Wendy said of the period after being served lawsuits for attempting to pòhuài jiātíng, or “break the family”.

“It’s [odd] Taiwan is on the forefront of legalising gay marriage and yet they have this archaic law.”

Wendy, who asked to be identified by another name due to Taiwan’s defamation laws, soon found that even after going through a divorce in the United States, dissolving a marriage in Taiwan was far more complicated.

“Adulterous” couples like Wendy and her partner risk as many as 22 months in prison under Taiwanese law, according to Hsiao-Wei Kuan, a professor at National Taipei University’s Department of Law.

In practice, most of those found guilty are “sentenced” to three to four months in prison for which they can pay a fine, averaging around 90,000 New Taiwan dollars ($3,000), but that figure does not include the thousands more in legal fees many individuals are forced to pay to defend themselves.

Despite its increasingly progressive reputation after legalising same-sex marriage, Taiwan is one of the only non-Muslim places in the world to still criminalise adultery. It is also the last place in East Asia following South Korea’s decriminalisation in 2015.

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