Is decriminalised prostitution ANC government’s job creation plan — Errol Naidoo

PHOTO: BBC.com

By Errol Naidoo, executive director Family Policy Institute

Justice and Constitutional Development Deputy Minister, John Jeffery released a statement on February 8 indicating he has begun “a series of consultative meetings with various stakeholders and interest groups to discuss the possible decriminalisation of “sex work.” 

The statement says: “The SA Law Reform Commission (SALRC) released its Report on Adult Prostitution in 2017. Cabinet at the time decided not to make a policy choice and felt the possible decriminalisation of “sex work” should be further debated.” 

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However, Mr Jeffery failed to explain why Cabinet felt the possible decriminalisation of “sex work” should be further debated” since nowhere in the SALRC Report is decriminalised “sex work” recommended as decent or productive work.
 
The statement further contends: “Many institutions, such as the Commission for Gender Equality and the South African National Aids Council (SANAC) have expressed views in favour of the decriminalisation of “sex work.” But again, fails to mention several other organisations including the SALRC (Commissioned by the Department of Justice itself to undertake the investigation), clearly recommends against a decriminalised sex industry in South Africa.   
 
Decriminalisation of prostitution is one of the world’s most disastrous approaches to the sex trade because it is a gift to pimps, brothel owners and sex buyers allowing them to carry out their activities as mere “sex business operators” and “customers,” and normalises the sexual violence and exploitation inherent in prostitution as a form of “work.”

Global research indicates a decriminalised sex industry significantly drives up demand for prostitutes thereby promoting the trafficking of vulnerable women and girls to supply the demand. The question the Department of Justice must answer is “how does it realistically combat sex trafficking when its policies drive up demand for prostitutes and therefore promote trafficking of women and girls?”   
     
Mr Jeffery’s statement is misleading for several reasons. It strongly suggests the ANC regime is leaning toward decriminalising the sex industry in South Africa even before it consults its citizens. In fact, the recommendations in the SALRC Report on Adult Prostitution highlights the dangers of a decriminalised sex industry in a country reeling from rampant poverty, unemployment and GBV.
 
The report warns against legitimising prostitution as “sex work” because it normalises the sexual exploitation of women and girls and contradicts governments own “New Growth Path” policy goals. The statement’s use of the term “sex work” may therefore reveal government’s true intentions.
 
Paragraph 30 of the SALRC report states: “Given the nature of the service provided through prostitution, the core question seems to be whether prostitution should be considered to be work and more specifically decent work in the context of an employment relationship. The aim of the International Labour Office (ILO) Decent Work Agenda and the Decent Work Programme for South Africa is to promote opportunities for people to obtain decent and productive work. Similarly the aim of the New Growth Path is to create decent work that will contribute to reducing inequality and defeating poverty.” 
 
It continues in paragraph 31: “Neither the ILO nor the above South African policy documents have promoted legalising prostitution as a solution to poverty; nor have they identified prostitution as an employment option for poor or marginalised people. Prostitution does not fit comfortably into the international definition of ―decent work. To the contrary, although prostitution may seem to provide superficially attractive short-term financial benefits, it has not been shown to lift women out of a lifetime of poverty and economic inequality.” 
 
Paragraph 32: “The Commission believes that despite arguments in favour of non-criminalisation and recognition of prostitution as work, or its inclusion in the reach of labour legislation, non- criminalisation would not automatically give prostitutes labour or work-related benefits.” 
 
Paragraph 33: “The Commission recommends that prostitution should not be recognised as a reasonable means to secure a person‘s living in South Africa, and from a formal labour perspective should not be considered to be work or decent work.” 
 
Paragraph 34: “The Commission concludes that within the South African context of high levels of gender violence and inequality coupled with the challenge of poverty, women are particularly vulnerable to being exploited in prostitution. Exploitation, particularly of women in prostitution, seems inherent in prostitution and depends on the external factors of gender violence, inequality and poverty.” 

Family Policy Institute’s (FPI) submission was referenced several times in the report. The SALRC agreed with FPI and many others to keep the sex industry criminalised as a deterrent and provide women exit programs to encourage them enter the formal labour market with dignity.
 
Paragraph 46 states: “The Commission agrees with Doctors for Life that criminalisation provides a legal mechanism to remove a prostitute from coercive circumstances and to provide her with an opportunity to enter rehabilitation, training and reintegration programmes. The need for access to skills development programmes to enable a gradual exit from prostitution was discussed and supported by POWA, Nation Building, Doctors for Life, the Islamic Unity Convention, the Family Policy Institute, and other respondents.” 
 
For the reasons articulated above, it is outrageous the South African government would even consider a decriminalised sex industry at a time of endemic poverty, record unemployment and high rates of violence against women and children — especially when it claims to be committed to combating Gender Based Violence and inequality in South Africa.
 
The statement selectively emphasises the views of state funded agencies like the Commission for Gender Equality and SANAC but omits to mention the majority of citizens and civil-society organisations that participated in the SALRC investigation who strongly oppose a decriminalised sex industry because of the exploitation and abuse inherent in this modern-day slave trade. 
 
The South African government has failed to create the decent and productive jobs it promised for decades. It now resorts to dismissing and distorting the well-researched findings of the SALRC investigation commissioned by its own Justice Department to advance a socially destructive agenda. Consequently, it appears a key component of the ANC government’s job creation strategy is the full decriminalisation of the sex industry so thousands of vulnerable women and girls can be ensnared in the sex trade and bought, sold and taxed like commodities in this dehumanising slave-market. 

Swedish expert on prostitution, Gunilla Ekberg warned: “What are the effects of prostitution on the women in prostitution as well as society at large? Prostitution doesn‘t just have individual impacts on women in prostitution. It impacts all women in that society. If you have a country that thinks it‘s appropriate and acceptable that women are to be for sale then you normalize the idea that men have the right to buy and sexually exploit not just a particularly marginalized subclass of women, but all of us,” – Abolishing Prostitution: The Swedish Solution.  
 

Research indicates the links between prostitution and organised crime are never broken even when the sex industry is legalised or decriminalised. In fact, decriminalised prostitution significantly expands the sex industry and facilitates and promotes sex trafficking. Research also shows child prostitution increases significantly when the sex industry is decriminalised because it is impossible to decouple child prostitution from adult prostitution. That’s why this is the most disastrous policy for South African society. As the SALRC Report warns, the already high rates of poverty, unemployment and gender-based violence makes decriminalised prostitution a recipe for disaster in a country already destabilised by state capture crimes.  
 
All responsible citizens must reject this disastrous policy proposal by an increasingly tone deaf government. FPI urges religious and civil society bodies to resist this destructive agenda and actively defend and protect vulnerable women and children from state sanctioned sexual enslavement. 

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