By Wezi Tjaronda
The debate on whether or not sex work should be criminalised continues. The latest is the Legal Assistance Centre urging the Government to decriminalise sex work.
Sex work in Namibia contravenes the Combating of Immoral Practices Act of 1980, which criminalises sex-related activities such as soliciting sex in public, pandering and keeping a brothel.
Yet, its illegality has not prevented the practice in the country and has instead marginalised sex workers, putting them at risk of beatings, harassment and HIV, says Suzanne LaFont, in a monograph entitled: “Help Wanted: Sex Workers in Katutura, Namibia”. The LAC’S Gender Research and Advocacy Project published the monograph.
LaFont says to address this issue, the Government should decriminalize sex and educate sex workers and the public about their rights.
“Decriminalisation could also empower sex workers to seek legal redress when forced to engage in a potentially life-threatening activity. Sex workers need to be able to report crimes committed against them to the police,” she said.
The sex workers themselves in an interview with LaFont said they wanted sex work to be made legal, because it would be safer to prevent HIV and to end police harassment.
Of the Stand Together interviewees, 87 percent believed that sex work should be made legal unlike 70 percent of the general public who were interviewed at random by the LAC research in 2002, who believe that sex work should be illegal.
The majority (58 percent) said if Government regulates sex work, they would work from home or from a brothel rather than going to the streets to find clients.
LAC’s study in 2002 found that women engaged in sex work because they could not find normal work, they needed to support their children and other family members and for other financial reasons, which made the researchers conclude that “sex work was the last and often desperate choice for most of the respondents to earn money”.
During their work, sex workers reported being physically abused by clients, not being paid for services rendered and being harassed and beaten by the police.
“It is imperative that the Namibian Government implements legislative reform to repeal the Combating of Immoral Practices Act of 1980,” the LAC recommends.
It adds that the police and health care workers should be sensitized on the rights and needs of sex workers and that women that want to quit sex work should have access to vocational training or further schooling.
The LAC also recommends that sex workers be given information on HIV/AIDS, rape, partner violence, safer sex work practices, the morning after pill, laws regarding sex work, Ministry of Education policies regarding school fees and disability.
Given the prevalence of HIV and poverty, the LAC says morality should not stand in the way of human rights, and health and dignity of citizens.
But the Council of Churches in Namibia says legalizing sex work would result in the slavery of more girls that drop out of school and are desperately looking for a means of survival.
Ludwig Beukes, health unit coordinator at the Council of Churches in Namibia (CCN), said decriminalizing sex work would not work for the Namibian situation where women engage in sex work because of poverty and hunger.
“We should look at the broader picture of why women get into prostitution. If we have no system to protect the unemployed, we will force all of them into prostitution if we decriminalise it,” he said.
Beukes added: “We will end up enslaving our daughters more. We will end up with other things like pornography and end up enriching people who already have money. I do not see how making sex work legal will benefit them.”
However, Beukes said sex workers need protection by the law especially in cases of abuse.
The unit trained several of the sex workers of Stand Together, who are now called the Kings’ Daughters. Some have already been placed in various jobs and from this, Beukes said, one could deduce that they are women that want to live a dignified life.