By Frederick Philander WINDHOEK THE long awaited report on the plight of sex workers, street kids and other vulnerable persons was yesterday summarily rejected in the National Council as misleading and a gross deviation from its mandate. The report was referred back to the responsible National Council Standing Committee: Gender, Youth and Information. In his rejection of the committee report, Swapo Party’s Johnny Hakaye told the National Council that the original motion and mandate had been tampered with and misdirected by the investigating committee. “In my opinion, a mandate was given to the committee to investigate violence and molestation of and against children and the brutal killing of women, not the plight of sex workers per se. There is literally nothing stated in the report that documents the core causes for these brutalities. The committee was apparently deliberately tampered with to lose track and direction,” Hakaye made his objections. In his opinion, the report encourages prostitution instead of seeking to diminish and curb the sex industry. “With this report defending prostitution, we are actually asking for licences to legally practice prostitution and in the process sending our people to their death. We must reduce and minimize prostitution, not improve circumstances for it to flourish,” the fiery Swapo MP said. Prostitution is a very fast growing profession in Namibia due to the high rate of unemployment, and it is made worse by the high dropout rate in schools. These are but two of 14 identified factors that contribute to the rise in prostitution, according to the report tabled by the chairman of the standing committee Sebastian Karupu. The committee conducted its work over the past few months by way of public hearings and written submissions from local NGOs, civil society, faith-based organisations, interest groups and individuals in Windhoek, Keetmanshoop, Oshikango, Noordoewer border post community, Karasburg and the Ausenkehr community. “Despite the risky and life threatening environment of prostitution, the market is flourishing and is populated by both local and foreign sex workers, primarily coming from neighbouring SADC countries. There are a few women and gay men who love the profession. Many detest prostitution or sex work, but in the absence of better alternatives, those who spoke to the committee indicated, albeit reluctantly, to continue practicing the trade,” Karupu yesterday told the National Council. He continued: “Many organisations, groups and individuals revealed to the committee that prostitution is the oldest profession that no law has ever succeeded in stopping. It is globally practiced and is being treated as an economic aspect, an employment opportunity and a means to earn an income. However, the profession is held to be a risky industry.” The National Council-mandated investigation, with a broader mandate, primarily focused on sex workers as a first phase. “Girl dropouts in Grades 10 and 12 and women in utter desperation openly go to truck ports in the hope of recruiting clients. Some of these women operate from their own informal brothels, especially in Oshikango. Girls, in many cases younger than 16 and women aged up to 50 years are found roaming the streets of the capital and also at Walvis Bay, Mile 14 on the outskirts of Swakopmund as well as at city exit points,” Karupu said. The report further claimed that women operate at night, hanging out around street corners, posing, shouting, demonstrating sexual gestures and exposing publicly their naked breasts and sometimes their private parts. “Street prostitution clients referred to as ‘johns’ or ‘tricks’, include men from all spheres of life, ranging from foreigners, taxi and truck drivers as well as those prowling around in expensive cars. Harassment, assault, robbery, sexual abuse, drug and alcohol abuse are some of the accompanying problems and dangers, rampant and rife within the prostitution trade,” Karupu said. “There is also no law directly regulating prostitution. There exists a legal vacuum on the issue of sex workers, which requires an urgent remedy. Furthermore, Namibian society still views prostitution as an evil which offends societal morals,” he said, stopping short of suggesting that prostitution be legalised in the country. The committee recommended that an independent body be created to provide the Government with a qualitative and quantitative insight for preventive or curative policies or regulations. “The Government and all other stakeholders should find ways and means by which sex workers could earn a decent living to minimise the impact of commercial sex work in Namibia. Moreover, viable economic alternatives should be created for them. Providing skills and the availability of bank loans will enable them to leave the unhealthy sex trade to start a decent way of living,” he said. The committee also recommended that more friendly and compassionate sexually transmitted disease (STD) clinics be established for sex workers. “These clinics will provide health care support and encourage sex workers to seek voluntary counselling and testing for behavioural change. The human rights of sex workers should also be protected by curbing sexual harassment of commercial sex workers by law enforcement agencies. Rehabilitated sex workers and welfare officers should also be employed as peer educators in efforts to curb the impact of HIV/AIDS,” he urged. In her rejection of the report, Swapo MP Hilma Nicanor told the National Council that nothing on the problems of street children or vulnerable women had been reported on in the document. “With this in mind, I cannot but recommend that the report be referred back to the responsible Standing Committee to reassure itself of its initial mandate,” Nicanor said. Through a show of hands, the report, under guidance of the National Council chairperson Asser Kapere, was referred back to the committee. The referral is apparently historic in the sense that most reports are usually accepted and adopted by the National Council, which resumes its business this morning at 09h30.
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