World’s Oldest Profession: Should Namibia Regulate Its Prostitutes?

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By Petronella Sibeene WINDHOEK While the question of whether to legalize prostitution or not remains afloat in most African countries, an experienced researcher argues that Namibia lacks the basis for legalizing this trade. Merab Kiremire, author of a recently launched report under the title “Prostitution in Windhoek, Namibia: An Exploration of Poverty”, argues that a legal framework can only be put in place if those who enter the trade do it at their own will and not necessarily through being pressured by economic circumstances as is currently the case. Looking at the high unemployment rate and general poverty in the country, policy makers cannot turn to legalizing prostitution unless other issues are addressed, she said. The report, which was launched last Friday and forms part of Kiremire’s Mentorship Programme at the University of Namibia, reveals that both females (84%) and males (12%) enter the industry due to severe financial difficulties and extreme poverty. “Researchers did not meet a single financially successful, contended female prostitute, whether young or old. Lack of life-sustaining opportunities and resources, poverty and social exclusion all point to the actual inexistence of choices and options,” the findings show. Deputy Prime Minister Libertina Amathila about six years ago, when she was minister of health, made an emotional plea for prostitution to be legalized. Cabinet colleagues, parliament and the churches shot her views down, saying they were unacceptable. She argued that legalizing the trade would empower sex workers to negotiate safer sex and help slow the spread of HIV, because they could then be tested, treated, counselled and educated about sexually transmitted diseases. Kiremire maintains that legalization can only be effective if adequate mechanisms that would protect women are put in place. “Prostitution is more of an underground business that makes monitoring difficult. The country has an obligation to protect the young ones but prostitution involves two people, how does one monitor that? Do we put an enforcement officer to ensure there is protection used during intercourse or if the woman has been paid?” she elaborated. She reiterated that if a legal framework were to be effected, it would entail licensing all prostitutes. Unfortunately, these people can be highly mobile making monitoring difficult. To meaningfully improve the social and economic status of women in Namibia and consequently prevent the sexual exploitation of children and ensure their protection, the report recommends that social-cultural attitudes shaping the roles of men and women in society be changed. Since these are deeply rooted in ethnic values, norms and practices, the findings suggest that strategies aimed at causing an effective change should target children at an early age. “Such an approach requires that gender be integrated into the school curriculum so that it becomes part and parcel of the learning process,” report adds. Prostitution is rampant in Namibia with findings disclosing that 89 percent of those in the industry are Namibians while 11 percent are foreigners hailing from countries such as Angola, Botswana, Cameroon, Congo DRC, Liberia, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.