Red light Durban

2008-07-21 00:00

The controversy over the legalisation of prostitution in time for the 2010 Soccer World Cup, which has been simmering since the proposal was first made, has again been fanned into life. Religious groupings have been joined by spokespeople for the major political opposition parties, the Democratic Alliance and the Inkatha Freedom Party, in condemning the idea.

It is not surprising that Durban should be the epicentre of this particular storm. It will be hosting major 2010 matches and its Point Road area has a long-standing reputation as a haven for seamen seeking sexual solace in one form or another. Nor is it accidental that prostitution is known proverbially as the world’s “oldest profession”. It is not illogical to argue that if the brothel trade cannot be eliminated it ought at least to be properly regulated and the anticipated influx of 2010 soccer fans does provide a reason to review the matter.

Two facets of the current controversy will be particularly offensive to many people: the implication that the eThekwini Municipality should actively facilitate prostitution, and that this should be done especially for the 2010 visitors. Both may actually be irrelevant. Regulating prostitution does not necessarily mean promoting it, and although Germany was similarly prepared, its experience was that World Cup fans did not in the event give themselves over to unrestrained sexual indulgence. Furthermore, while Durban has become the focal point of the furore, this is (as deputy mayor Logie Naidoo has observed) a matter for the national government, not a municipal council, to decide.

It is now up to the government to find its solution. Criminalising prostitution has never been effective. If anything, the attendant problems of abuse, drugs and kidnapping are made worse. The challenge will be to find the best balance between legislation that curbs procurement and solicitation on the one hand, and on the other provides adequate protection to sex workers, particularly in the areas of health, security and legal status.

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