Decriminalisation of sex work 'will help stop HIV'

SWEAT (Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce) is joining UNAIDS to demand that South Africa decriminalises sex workers, and that the whole sex work industry is brought out of the shadows.

A study released by UNAIDS yesterday recommended that countries who currently criminalise sex workers take action to decriminalise this vulnerable group in order to better respond to the HIV pandemic.

Sally-Jean Shackleton of SWEAT said yesterday “the Law Reform Commission looked at this issue for seven years before releasing its South African Discussion Paper on Adult Prostitution in 2009. Law reform is progressing at a very slow rate – too slow to make a difference to sex workers who are reluctant to report violence or seek health advice and assistance because they are criminalised”.

South Africa is one of more than 100 countries that criminalise parts of sex work – yet also recognises sex workers as a vulnerable population for HIV infection. This hypocrisy comes to life on the streets of Cape Town where sex workers have reported that the police have searched their bags and pockets for condoms, using this as proof of sex work. This action effectively renders sex workers, their clients and other sexual partners at risk.

Progress made

The UNAIDS reports that while progress has been made on many fronts in HIV prevention, treatment and care, sex workers remain under-served and under-represented in targeted responses and research. They go on to state that paid sex remains an important factor in many of the HIV epidemics in Western, Central and Eastern Africa.

In Uganda 10% of new infections are linked to sex work. Earlier this week the Minister of Ethics and Integrity stopped an important regional meeting of sex workers in the name of “morality”, and this week newspapers in Uganda reported on the UNAIDS report as “sex workers causing rise in HIV” – adding to the stigma sex workers in Uganda and elsewhere in Africa face.
SWEAT calls on the South African government to act now to decriminalise sex work to strengthen its response to HIV and to protect the human rights of sex workers. (Edited version of a press release by SWEAT, November 2010)


Sally-Jean Shackleton, SWEAT:               021 448-7875       . Helpline for sex workers: 0800 60 60 60.

The full report, global and regional fact sheets, and other supporting materials.

The Ugandan Newspaper: New Vision “Sex workers causing rise in HIV”, 23 November, 2010 by Raymond Baguma and Chris Kiwawulo.

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