'Sex workers continue to be the subject of human rights violations' - social development dept

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Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu
Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu
Gallo Images/Oupa Bopape
  • The Deputy Minister of Social Development says sex workers' rights should be respected by all South Africans, especially the police. 
  • Sex workers raised their concerns during a dialogue with the deputy minister in Polokwane, Limpopo. 
  • The dialogue took place as part of the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children campaign.

A Limpopo sex worker has appealed to the government to protect sex workers from abuse. 

She made the appeal during a dialogue with Deputy Social Development Minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, held under the theme: "The Year of Mannya Maxeke – 16 Day of Activism – Moving from Awareness to Accountability."

She chose to remain anonymous.

The woman revealed that she was a breadwinner and advised fellow sex workers to try to save money they generate from their work so that their children and families can have better lives. 

The dialogue took place as part of the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children campaign, said social development spokesperson Lumka Oliphant. 

Conny Buthelezi from the Sisonke National Sex Worker Movement in South Africa, said sex workers faced abuse, violence and other forms of exploitation, which could be economic and gender-based violence (GBV) in nature. 

"As of 1957, sex work was criminalised in terms of the Sexual Offences Act of 1957. Clients have to pay lots of money in the form of bribery to appease those who arrest them and even social workers," Buthelezi was quoted as saying.

Buthelezi added there was a need to advocate sex work for those age 18 and older.

She added: 

Law enforcement officers often demand money from sex workers, and some of their rights are violated as they are arrested, even when they go shopping and [are] not necessarily conducting their sex work business.

Oliphant said another sex worker said she was raped and reported her case to the police.

"She also complained that instead of the police arresting the rapist, members of the SAPS told her to find the person who raped her." 

In response, the deputy minister said that sex workers' rights should be respected by all South Africans, especially members of the police.

"Similar to all workers, sex workers also have a right to healthcare, protection and recognition of their profession," Bogopane-Zulu added.

The department said sex workers were part of a vulnerable group as defined in Goal 3 of the National Strategic Plan for HIV, TB and STIs.

READ | More than half of SA's sex workers victims of rape, study finds

"The goal stipulates that, in order for the country to succeed in its quest to end HIV as a public health threat, all key and vulnerable populations, such as sex workers, need targeted interventions designed for challenges unique to them.

"The National Sex Worker HIV Plan also calls for similar interventions geared towards addressing structural drivers of HIV within the sex worker context." 

The department has called for the decriminalisation of sex work "as criminalisation poses a myriad of challenges against interventions designed for sex workers".

"[The] criminalisation of the trade is intricately linked to the ongoing human rights violations and inadequate access to social, justice and health services. 

"Sex workers continue to be the subject of human rights violations, gender-based violence, ill-treatment by law enforcement officials and the public, as well as severe cases of stigmatisation. These challenges were heightened by the outbreak of the coronavirus."

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