News24

Malawi law to protect sex work

2009-10-23 08:31

Lilongwe - Malawi is preparing a law to protect sex workers against abuse by clients in a move that could help fight HIV/Aids which has ravaged the southern African nation in the last two decades.

Gender and Community Development Minister Patricia Kaliati told Reuters that the bill was being finalised before it went to parliament to be passed into law.

"We want to take them off the streets, let them enjoy sex from their homes, and protect them against abuse and Aids," Kaliati said.

She did not say how the new law would achieve this, but denied that the government wanted to legalise prostitution in a deeply religious and conservative country.

Aids in Malawi, whose population is around 13 million, has killed over 800 000 people since it was first reported in 1985, leaving more than one million orphans.

But prevention work has lowered the overall prevalence rate to 12% from 14%, and greater access to free medicine has helped to reduce the number of people dying from HIV related illnesses by 70%.

Reacting to the proposed bill, a leading human rights activist warned the government against legalising prostitution.

"Malawi is a faith-based country with all forms of religions whose beliefs condemn prostitution; therefore we must not forget who we are, culturally and morally," said Mavuto Bamusi.

But Kaliati said that the government's intention was only to protect the interests of the sex workers.

"This does not by any means mean that we are legalising the trade... we are just trying to empower this vulnerable group against abuse," she said.

Malawi's major cities have seen an increase in prostitution in recent years with girls as young as 12 years involved.