Legalise prostitution, Mogae says

2011-11-08 08:07

Gaborone - For 15 years Thato Serite has made her living as a prostitute along Botswana's busiest highway, hired by truckers plying the main route to South Africa.

The 35-year-old is an expert at dodging police patrols, but Botswana's former president Festus Mogae wants to put an end to their cat-and-mouse game by legalising prostitution in hopes of bringing down one of the world's highest HIV rates.

"They are always after us and we are always running or hiding away from them. Some days we get unfortunate and get caught and have to part with our cash in paying fines. Some unscrupulous officers even demand free sex in exchange of our freedom," Serite said.

One in four adults in Botswana has HIV, a rate that has hardly budged over the last decade, despite the country's relative prosperity.

Botswana doesn't track the infection rate among sex workers, but southern Africa's truck routes have long been regarded as a main pathway of the disease's spread.

"Prostitutes suffer in the hands of some clients who refuse to pay after getting the services, or who demand unprotected sex," Serite said. "It can be really tough in the streets."

Mogae, the head of the National Aids Council, argues that legalising prostitution would make it easier to help sex workers prevent the disease.

"Decriminalising sex work does not mean encouraging it, but it would rather pave way for policies that protect those who have been forced into the trade," he told a recent council meeting.

"They will be able to report men who forcibly put them at risk of contracting the virus, and in turn men who seek their services will no longer abuse them as might be the situation now," he said.

Religious groups

Legalising the sex trade would also free up police to focus on other crimes, rather than chasing adults having consensual sex with their clients, he says.

Mogae plans to bring his recommendations to cabinet and parliament.

The ruling Botswana Democratic Party, which Mogae once led, has yet to take a position on the proposal, while opposition leader Botsalo Ntuane has said he supports the move to decriminalise the 'profession'.

But his proposal has sparked a backlash among religious groups in this conservative country.

"Sex according to Christian values is meant for people in a marriage with the aim to pro-create," said the Catholic Church's spokesman Father William Horlu.

"It is taboo to engage in sex for money and I hope Botswana, being a Christian country, will not allow the trade to be decriminalised."

Mogae, who has also called for scrapping Botswana's sodomy law, retorts that religious prohibitions haven't worked.

"Italy is a Catholic country well known for prostitution. There is divorce among Muslims, though they have very strict rules. So we cannot talk about the church way because it has failed in history," he said.

The former president has won the backing of Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/Aids as well as the main opposition party.

"Criminalisation of sex work leaves sex workers vulnerable to sexual and physical abuse as well as HIV infections," said its director, Uyapo Ndadi.

"And it's not only them who will be on the receiving end, but other men who will seek their services and partners of those men. So it's a vicious circle that needs to be broken."

  • JazzyBlues - 2011-11-08 08:23

    I never thought I would support the legalisation of prostitution, but former President Mogae makes a very strong argument. I live and work in the healh sector in Botswana and deal with the realities of HIV/AIDS infections and treatment everyday. THe goverment really do take care of these patient and they campaign against the spread of the decease.Yet the statistics are frightning and not improving. Mogae is being realistic about the spread of the disease and this will be a step in the right direction.

      George - 2011-11-08 16:01

      Adults over 18 should be able to smoke drugs, sleep with whoever they want and be in total control of their lives. It is hypocritical to allow 18 year old to legally feature in pornographic movies yet they cannot sell sex in a consensual manner. It is also hypocritical to allow people to drink liquor yet bann drugs. Liquor is also a drug that is responsible for thousands of deaths on the roads, diseases, broken families etc. People must be allowed to do what they want with their lives as long as they do not break rules.

  • Houtskool - 2011-11-08 10:13

    Legalising will only make more people wanting to join the trade, since the fact that its illegal, serves as a deterrent. AIDS will prosper.

  • Jou_Ma - 2011-11-08 10:30

    It is like giving a loaded gun to a criminal and telling him not to shoot anyone.

  • Mike - 2011-11-08 11:15

    @Houtskool' Prostitution is the oldest job in the world, even if it encourages more, it will be done safely and can be controlled. You are ignorant in your views it will not increase HIV in fact it will have the opposite effect. Give this man a Bells, for once an African leader with a head on his shoulders, unlike our own conservative brain dead lot. And again religion is the drag on everything, it supports nothing progressive and dags society down. Unbelievable that society can still be so narrow minded about this issue.

  • jacelyn.catto - 2011-11-08 12:04

    well, NOW iv heard it all!

      Phoenix - 2011-11-08 13:40

      Yes! You will be able to ply your trade in Botswana legally! Yay for you!

  • Xinobia - 2011-11-08 13:23

    And how exactly will legal sex prevent AIDS? Now really!!!!! @Mike - you poor unfortunate soul. To think that religion is a drag on everything & dags society down! How ignorant can you be? Feel sorry for you!!!!!!!

      Mike - 2011-11-08 13:44

      It will not stop AIDS but it will sure help in managing the problem and even if it decrease HIV cases with 1% it is better than the current situation. For example they have to do regular test, have access to drugs, ect, ect. and she will pay tax, she can have protection and not be hassled by the cops or other unsavory characters. People have sex and it will not stop, as is currently the case even when it is illegal it's still a problem. So best is legalize it and manage it. In Amsterdam it is legal and manageable, and that is much better than having it illegal. The unfortunate soul is you who believe in an imaginary friend. Your narrow minded religious views again is not helping the well being of people.

      Phoenix - 2011-11-08 13:45

      OMG the irony Xinobia!!! 'Legal' means that one can pass legislation (yes it is a big word but try and stay with me here) that requires medical certificates; and also of course, requires workers to be tested. The first step in combatting HIV/AIDS is to know your status so that it can be managed. Ironically, YOU are the ignorant fool.

  • Increasingly Annoyed - 2011-11-08 13:42

    Yes, legalise prostitution in South Africa. A sexual act between consenting adults is their business and certainly has nothing to do with government, moral guardians or anybody else.

  • lebo.lathane - 2011-11-08 15:00

    Give that man a Bells! It's not ideal, but its certainly the lesser of the two evils! Look at it this way, if you had a 13 year old and you suspected that they were having sex, would you shout 'NO SEX' to them (and expose them to all the risks associated with reckless sexual behaviour) or educate them about safe sex and hand them a box of condoms...Let's be real people! This is a pragmatic and realistic solution to a real problem. It's not like the government will be forcing anyone to pursue it as a career...

  • Nontobeko - 2011-11-08 18:30

    I think President Mogae has a valid point (Prostitutes suffer in the hands of some clients who refuse to pay after getting the services, or who demand unprotected sex)... However, I doubt this will decrease the spread of HIV and Aids. The statistics says One in four adults in Botswana has HIV, this however does not prove that illegal prostitution is the of the high HIV/Aids infections , the government should focus more on empowering sex workers with "proper skills" and take them off the streets.

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