It's a phenomenon that's becoming more visible because of the internet.
Hong Kong cracks down on sugar daddies
In the West, it's called "sugaring."
No, we're not talking about an alternative way of removing body hair.
Sugaring is used to describe a kind of relationship in which a younger person gets financially compensated to spend time with an older person. The relationship usually involves sexual activity.
Here in Asia, a similar set-up is called “compensated dating,” a term that originated in Japan but is now widely used in the Chinese-speaking world.
Over the past decade, Hong Kong police have been stepping up efforts to combat compensated dating, which is regarded as a form of illegal sex work.
During the latest crackdown over the weekend, a total of 19 people were arrested, including a 16-year-old female high school dropout.
They were all suspected of providing or using online dating services to arrange paid sexual encounters.
Hong Kong Police Senior Inspector Timothy Cheung Chun-long said those suspected of being "part-time girlfriends or boyfriends" had provided their services for money, and that no coercion had been involved.
They charged between $130 to $516 for each encounter.
Sandy To, a researcher at the University of Hong Kong, told Inkstone that compensated dating seemed to be getting more prominent because of the internet.
“There are more and more websites available for these ‘mutually beneficial’ relationships. There is a trade or exhange between the partners. They're like dating websites, but for a specific kind of relationship,” she said.
These websites include Malaysia-based TheSugarBook and US-based SeekingArrangement.
During the weekend crackdown, officers seized mobile phones, nurses and sailor uniforms, handcuffs, condoms and lubricant.
The suspects were all between the ages of 16 and 40, and included three male students still attending high school.
Prostitution itself is not illegal in Hong Kong, but “soliciting for immoral purposes” is.
Police said one of the supects, a 29-year-old man, was supected of being a middleman, helping two of the "part-time boyfriends” to find clients.
He allegedly charged as much as half of their fees as commission. That suspect was arrested on suspicion of being a pimp.
Cheung said the investigation, code-named Operation Riverland, would continue.
More than a decade ago, prostitution gangs in Hong Kong began to promote their services as compensated dating, since it sounded more attractive and exotic to prospective customers. They recruited women and placed online sex service advertisements on social media platforms.
In Hong Kong, most of the compensated dating cases involved sexual relations, unlike in Japan where compensated dating can involve just a meal or a movie, according to local police sources.
The sources say that, after regular raids, some women in Hong Kong are now working individually to find clients online.
Compensated dating is also seen in Taiwan and mainland China, often involving "sugar babies" who are still attending high school or college.