Sex worker criminalisation debated at summit
Publish date: 12 March 2018
Issue Number: 765
Diary: IBA Legalbrief Africa
Category: South Africa
Safety, choice, abuse and human rights were some of the key themes debated in a summit in Parliament on the recent government-commissioned report recommending that sex work remains criminalised, notes a News24 report. Parliament's multi-party women's caucus hosted a day-long summit to discuss the SA Law Reform Commission's (SALRC) 2017 report that recommended full criminalisation remain the law. The option of ‘partial criminalisation’, where only clients were penalised, was also considered but had its drawbacks, it argued. Sonke Gender Justice's Kholi Buthelezi, one of 32 speakers, argued that the SALRC's report failed to provide the perspectives of sex workers. As a result, it adopted norms and assumptions on behalf of a group of people who were not represented, and robbed them of their agency. A legal representative from the Sex Workers' Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat), Anél du Toit, said the report's recommendation for criminalisation was based primarily on links to other social ills, such as human trafficking and drug abuse. However, no substantive support for the links was shown in the report, she contended. ‘We have no information on exactly how many people are arrested, how many people are involved.’ Primrose Residents Against Crime's Emilia Duarte-Potgieter, though, argued that the very nature of sex work brought about damaging effects to both the sex worker and the client. Decriminalisation would not prevent the damage caused by the act or service, and to their families. Government should, therefore, be working to help sex workers who wanted to leave the industry, and give them the capacity to do so, she said. The hearing was aimed at gaining input into the issue before adopting a stance to be taken to the National Assembly for consideration.