Following proclamations by the Gauteng premier on national television in support of legalising prostitution, Thelma Tafadzwa Madondo talks to Pambazuka News about the negative impacts such a move might have on child prostitutes.
Earlier this year the Gauteng premier proclaimed on national television that prostitution should be legalised. She said: ‘The best is to recognise commercial sex work, make sure it has different support systems … have a designated area, register people, let them be subjected to periodic health tests, and also let them be subjected to what me and you are subjected to – tax.’
Whilst watching the news and hearing this, a couple of questions went through my mind, thinking of whether the rights of the girl child would be considered before passing the law. I thought of issues such as HIV and AIDS, education, child sexual abuse, rape and trafficking of girls. In trying to reconcile legalising prostitution and these issues, I could not see consideration being made to the rights of a girl child.
The idea was first proposed in 2007 by the police commissioner, who argued that legalising prostitution before 2010 would free up the police to deal with more pressing issues. His rationale was to legalise prostitution and public drinking before the 2010 Football World Cup for the enjoyment of foreign fans coming to South Africa, so that they are not arrested for these crimes. This legalising of the sex industry was clearly not for the sake of the sex workers but rather to cater solely to the convenience of sex-buying men. If prostitution is legalised based on this rationale, it creates an atmosphere encouraging exploitation of women and opens the doors for child sexual abuse; pimps will use this as a money making opportunity: trafficking girls from poor, rural South Africa forcing and them into prostitution.
The premier’s argument was based more on promoting equality as enshrined in the Constitution. The Constitution advocates for equal treatment of all human beings and interpreting it directly would mean the equal treatment of prostitutes and sex workers as other professionals. As much as there is a good intention, my main concern is about how this will affect the rights of the girl child. There is a need to look at what the girl child is being exposed to and whether they are accorded their right to protection by the laws. With the rate of poverty in South Africa, many girls are brought up in poor families with not enough financial support for their education. Prostitution becomes an acceptable option for not pursuing education as they can always resort to working at a young age.
South Africa is already facing a problem of child prostitution and human trafficking; the numbers keep increasing every year. In some parts of the country children as young as seven are already working as prostitutes. Making prostitution legal will not reduce the problem but rather make the system more vulnerable to abuse by pimps and parents who force their children into prostitution.
Most societies already view prostitution as being immoral because of the way it is performed; for example, exposing their bodies to attract a man’s attention in residential areas where families and children are exposed too. We all want our children to be brought up in an atmosphere that is decent and without crime. If prostitution is legalised the chances are that the number of women and child abuse cases will increase and, lets face it, this can also contribute to the escalation of drug abuse in South Africa. The Premier suggested having a designated area where the sex workers and prostitutes can operate but do we know whether this will help to protect the girl child and not expose them to prostitution at a young age? In Amsterdam prostitution has been legal since the 19th century, they have ‘Red Light Districts’ where sex works can operate freely. However, evidence shows that as much as these districts exists not all sex workers are abiding to the laws. Also, since legalisation there has been a substantial increase in the human trafficking of young women and girls.
If South African authorities do decide to regulate prostitution with the aim of recognising it as legal profession like any other, how then are they going to address the protection of minor girls, eliminating forced prostitution and human trafficking?
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
Nkululeko Ncana, Open Mind on Sex for Sale, 14 May 2009, http://m.saelections.co.za/article.php?id=4578
Thandi Mkhatshwa, Legalizing Prostitution in South Africa ,The African, http://www.africanmag.com/FORUM-1065-design004
Prostitution in South Africa http://www.sugargirlsandseamen.com/2007/03/soccer-sex-legal-prostitution-for-south.html
The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa No. 108 of 1996 (As amended)
 Yvonne Beyers, Child prostitution rife in SA, http://www.news24.com
Amsterdam. Info: Prostitution in Amsterdam http://www.amsterdam.info/prostitution
Marlise Simons, Amsterdam tries upscale fix for red light district crime, New York Times, 24 February 2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/24/world/europe/24amsterdam.html
Henry Trotter Sugar Girls and Seamen A Journey into the world of Dockside