Around 450 prostitutes clad in traditional white Korean burial robes or wearing only their underwear with red paint smeared all over their bodies protested in front of the Times Square shopping mall in Seoul's Yeongdeungpo on Tuesday afternoon demanding their right to do business. Some even poured gasoline over their bodies threatening self-immolation.
Prostitutes as well as the owners of beauty salons and dress shops from red light districts in other parts of Seoul and surrounding Gyeonggi Province who depend on their custom also took part in the four-hour protest.
Red light districts in and around the capital have been forced to close down as the areas are being redeveloped to make room for apartments and office buildings. Last month, around 200 prostitutes and pimps protested in front of the shopping mall. Pimps in Cheongnyangni in the northeastern part of Seoul have clashed with police as they try to pick up customers in front of a major department store nearby.
In the once notorious red light district in Cheongnyangni, which at one time was home to around 700 prostitutes, only 60 remain. The red light district in front of Yongsan Station near central Seoul used to house around 120 brothels, but only six or seven remain and even they will be shut down next month.
A decade ago, the price of real estate for 3.3 sq. m of land around the red light district in Yongsan was W30-50 million (US$1=W1,090). Now, it has soared to more than W150 million. A 54-story skyscraper and a sprawling apartment complex are scheduled to be built in the red light district area in Cheongnyangni, while 35 and 40-story buildings will be built in Yongsan.
"In Seoul, it's impossible to make a profit from prostitution after paying for the real estate," a developer said.