LISTEN | Decriminalisation of sex work will keep sex workers safe: NGO

05 January 2023 - 07:06
By Phathu Luvhengo
The government seems to have created an environment in which the call for decriminalisation of sex work is no longer seen largely as a taboo.
Image: FREDLIN ADRIAAN The government seems to have created an environment in which the call for decriminalisation of sex work is no longer seen largely as a taboo.

If sex work is decriminalised, it will be possible for brothels to be monitored and regulated and ultimately lead to the safety of sex workers.

This is the view of Constance Mathe from Asijiki Coalition for the Decriminalisation of Sex Work.

The cabinet recently approved the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Bill for public comment. The bill repeals the Sexual Offences Act (previously the Immorality Act) and section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act.

South Africans have until the end of January to comment on whether sex work should be decriminalised.

LISTEN | Deputy minister of justice on why sex work should be decriminalised

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“If it can be decriminalised, first the criminal offence will be removed from the sex workers. We want all the criminal charges against sex workers to be removed and second, we need to look into the laws that they will put in place,” Mathe said.

Asijiki, a coalition of 131 organisations, has been highlighting the challenges of sex workers and how they affect communities. Mathe said it had been extremely difficult for sex workers.

“We have been advocating for the decriminalisation of sex workers for the past 26 years. There were some pushbacks in the past few years.

“In 2007, they changed the law and it was totally criminalising the buyer and the seller and on the sexual offence side we haven’t seen where the buyer was prosecuted but sex workers have been in and out of prisons.”

She said the multiparty women’s caucus and ANC Women’s League had made several attempts in the past to have sex work decriminalised. .

“The other thing is that sex workers come from different backgrounds and we need people to understand that. It has been a challenge for us and it has been a marathon until this bill was published.”

Mathe said the bill had not happened overnight. It was the result of hard work and consultation.

“We are excited that we have the bill out there but we are just keeping our fingers crossed for the public comment and we are communicating with our people to support us,” she said.

Asijiki believes the bill, if passed, will pave the way for brothels and sex workers to be registered and regulated.

“We will need to register under the Sisonke movement of sex workers. Once the sex industry is decriminalised, it means we can also start a trade union where sex workers will be recognised and their rights protected,” Mathe said.

“We will make sure that if the brothel is illegally operating it will need to be closed down. We will monitor to make sure there are no underage children.”

Mathe said it will allow them to work closely with the department of social development and ensure children are protected and do not join the trade.

“We don’t want to see anyone under 18. We don’t consider them as sex workers, they are not sex workers — they are children and it is child exploitation.

“We don’t want a child and we will make sure that any child we see in the street as a sex worker will be reported and referred to the relevant people.”


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