Sex workers continue call for decriminalisation at Aids conference

2016-07-19 10:51
A prostitute walks past so-called "sex boxes" at the opening day of Switzerland's first sex drive-in in Zurich. (Fabrice Coffrini, AFP)

A prostitute walks past so-called "sex boxes" at the opening day of Switzerland's first sex drive-in in Zurich. (Fabrice Coffrini, AFP)

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Pietermaritzburg - With estimates that 77% of sex workers in Durban are HIV-positive, local and foreign sex workers on Monday called on delegates at the 2016 International Aids Conference to decriminalise sex work.

A panel of delegates made up of Sex Workers Educational Advocacy Task Force (Sweat) director Sally Shackleton, South African National Aids Council director Dr Fareed Abdullah, Deputy Justice Minister John Jeffery and others addressed a crowded hall of media, sex workers and activists on the issue of decriminalising sex work, the high HIV transmission rates and the laws surrounding the buying and selling of sex in SA and around the world.

Jeffery was booed by the crowd when he said there were some organisations and officials who thought sex work should not be decriminalised. The deputy minister demanded that he be allowed to talk, to which a sex worker in the crowd replied: “If you are allowed to talk, we should be allowed to work”.

Jeffery said it was up to the government to take up the decriminalisation of sex workers and that although buying and selling sex was illegal in SA, the prosecution of sex workers was not a priority. He said only 241 cases had been opened against sex workers in the last three years.

Shackleton said that two sex workers had not been allowed into the conference due to criminal records.

“This is supposed to be an international conference that involves discussions surrounding the rights of sex workers, yet they were not allowed access.

“Sex workers should be at the front of the queue for such gatherings, but they are not,” she said.

Shackleton said one of the sex workers was eventually allowed in, but the other was not.

A Durban sex worker, who would not be named, said they had been fighting for decriminalisation for many years.

“Most of us sex workers know our status, but we fear for our safety. We do not have access to basic health services because our work is illegal,” she said.

Read more on:    aids2016  |  durban  |  hiv aids  |  health

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