This House would legalize sex work in order to make controls more feasible and effective to combat HIV/AIDS

With the prevalence of HIV, both worldwide and across Africa, concern has been raised over what can provide appropriate solutions. In 2011, 34 million people were living with HIV globally; with rates of HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa accounting for 69% of the total adult population living with HIV (GHO, 2013)[1]. The identification of the burden HIV/AIDS has on livelihoods, health systems, and economy, placed the effective control of HIV/AIDS on the Millenium Development Goals agenda. Previous debates and concern have drawn upon a range of concerns from medical intervention to contraceptive distribution. The 17th International Conference on AIDS and sexually transmitted infections in Africa, based in South Africa, worked to mobilise response and solutions to reach a target of zero people living with HIV. A key focus was placed on the provision of HIV treatment; and crucial recognition was raised on a particular group, sex workers[2]. Unsafe sex work accounts for 15% of HIV amongst women (Pruss-Ustun et al, 2013)[3]. However, despite being a “vulnerable” group, their inclusion in treatment and prevention solutions has remained marginalised within the policy discourse and practice. Sex workers have often been criminalised, driving it underground. 

In focusing on sex workers and the measures to combat HIV/AIDS this debate explores who are sex workers, where they are, why do they adopt such practices, and what relationship do they have to the prevalence of HIV/AIDS. Sex work is broadly defined as the act of selling sex. Across Africa the legality of sex work varies - for example prostitution is defined as illegal in a majority of African nation-states[4]. However, the question remains as to what can be used to effectively reduce, and combat, HIV/AIDS amongst sex workers?

Regional variations remain in HIV/AIDS across Africa. Percentages range from 0.7% (among 15-49 year olds) in Senegal to 17.3% in South Africa (WHO, 2011): what are the causes of variation? Is the issue one of law and legality, whereby sex work needs to be made illegal to discourage such occupations; or does this result in a loss of rights and human dignity? Do sex workers need support to exit the precarious employment? This debate focuses on both issues around supply and demand of sex workers; the potential limits of legal change in resolving the pandemic; and the politics involved with being a sex worker. Ultimately is the UNDP (2013) right to propose legal frameworks as requirements to prevent HIV/AIDS and vulnerability[5]? Is it a question of theory versus practice?

[1] Around 63% of eligible people are receiving antiretroviral treatment across the African region (see WHO, 2013).  

[2] Itself a slippery concept: The worker has to identify themselves as a ‘sex worker’, defined as the exchange of sex at a negotiated price. This fails to explore if the act is condoled by choice; the variety of bartering or exchange that take place; and the variety of conditions whereby sex is exchanged for a ‘reward’.

[3] Evidence by the WHO (2011) has shown within the HIV epidemic sex workers remain a key group in Sub-Saharan Africa; reporting relatively higher rates of HIV then the general population. 

[4]Two nation-states have made prostitution legal and regulated (including Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal) while in thirteen countries prostitution is legal, but associated activities unregulated (Wikipedia, 2013).

[5] See further reading: UNDP, 2012.

 

Title 
Decriminalising increses sex workers’ rights.
Point 

Sex workers remain stigmatised across Africa. Legalising sex work enables the practice to be decriminalised, and rights provided.

Being a sex worker where it is illegal creates additional risks and vulnerabilities. Reports from South Africa show that criminalizing sex workers makes them more likely to be victims of inhuman police action[1]. Sex workers are raped, abused, and harassed. The risk of unsafe sex is therefore practiced outside of their occupation as no legal rights are provided. Legalising, and subsequently decriminalising, sex work will first, tackle corrupt police soliciting sex. Secondly, a new rights framework is provided. Sex workers are able to fight exploitation and claim rights for protection by prosecuting perpetrators if raped or abused.

Sex work will continue either way - but legalising it means legal safety, protection, and negotiation, is provided.

[1] The legalisation of sex work has been introduced by the ANC Women's League (ANCWL) in South Africa. See further readings: BBC, 2012; Daily News, 2013) 

Counterpoint 

The reality of a causal relation between legalising sex work and decriminalisation remains questionable. Accepting sex work within the legal framework does not ensure the practice is de-stigmatised or becomes regulated. Such contradictions indicate the depth of social stigmatisation towards sex work.

Taking the case of Senegal, where prostitution has been legalised, police abuse continues and sex workers actively choose to work in unregulated environments. In Senegal’s booming sex trade industry, prostitutes are required to register with the police and granted a identity card confirming health requirements have been met. However, their identification places sex workers open to discrimination by the police and social stigma[1]. Further, the legalisation of the industry in Senegal has attracted immigrants and refugees to work within the industry. They lack citizenship rights; therefore legal protection is limited and abused. Clandestine sex work remains prevalent. Sex workers represent around 18% of HIV prevalence, particularly higher amongst women (Aids Alliance, 2013).

Sex workers rights will only emerge once sex work is de-stigmatised, the act of selling sex is no longer taboo, and corrupt laws changed to provide sex workers with respect and protection beyond the law. The stigma of sex work is the basis of illegality and criminalisation.

[1] Senegal has a predominantly muslim population.

Title 
Sex work is legitimate work.
Point 

Sex work is employment, and therefore requires legal protection. It remains the government responsibility to provide security for their productive workforce and enable them to organise, and unionise. Sex work empowers women and men by providing a means of income, independence and control over sexual practices, and flexible employment. A legal framework will enable sex workers to be able to unionise. Unions remain a source of power in politics.

Recognising sex work as legitimate work enables positive intervention. Firstly, taxes can be collected by the state; and social security schemes established. Pensions can be set up and a safety-net for if workers become ill and or infected provided. Sex workers will be recognised as citizens, contributing to national wealth. Secondly, labour laws - such as minimal wages, hours, and safety, can be implemented. Labour laws are a means of regulating conditions of employment and workplaces preventing exploitation[1].

[1] ILO (2013) defines ‘decent work’ as productive work; work whereby rights are guaranteed and social protection provided; and work that promotes social organisations. 

Counterpoint 

Legalising sex work means legalising the trading of bodies as a commodity. The practice is disempowering and undermining human rights, not vice-versa. It remains immoral that the state should grant such transactions and introduce prostitution as a career path. By legalising sex work to control HIV, the state becomes an active agent in illegitimate practices. Further, the state makes money while no gains are made for workers. Who really benefits from legalisation?

Title 
Legalising ensures health care and safe sex.
Point 

Legalising sex work will enable regulation. Responsive laws can promote safe sex practices and enable access to health services[1].

Firstly, sex workers fear asking for health assistance, and treatment in public services, due to the illegal and criminalised nature of sex work. WHO (2011) predicted 1 in 3 sex workers received adequate HIV prevention; and less are able to access additional health services. Access is limited due to the criminalised status, but also cost of treatment and transport, inconvenient opening hours, and humiliation[2]. Secondly, the illegal nature of sex work has been attached to safe-practice tools. In Namibia, where prostitution remains commonly practiced but illegal, the criminalisation of accessing condoms enhances vulnerabilities. Following stop and searches by the police 50% of sex workers reported their condoms were destroyed (OSF, 2012). Within the 50%, 75% subsequently had unprotected sex. Being defined as illegal puts workers at greater risk.    

Through legalisation sex workers can access tests and openly seek treatment, care and support.

[1] ICASA, 2013, has argued national responses need to enable inclusive, and universal, access to health care treatment to combat HIV/AIDS.

[2] See further readings: Mtewwa et al, 2013.

Counterpoint 

Introducing new ‘good’ laws can drive sex work activities underground, and contradictorily reduce access to necessary health care services. Legislation does not ensure universal access: legalising sex work does not stop unequal politics.

First, the provision of HIV/AIDS treatment and care is dependent on the global-economy and influenced by investor faiths, ethics, and motives[1]. Therefore access to ART (Antiretroviral treatment) among sex workers is controlled by who is providing aid and distributing resources. Second, the most effective prevention strategy is believed to be ABC (Abstinence, Be faithful, and use a Condom). Such mottos exclude sex workers, and directly place the burden of HIV/AIDS to the individual. Such mottos are founded on strong Christian beliefs - legalising sex work cannot easily change traditional structures.

[1] A decline in global AID funding has been noted with the global economic downturn (World Bank, 2011). Further, the impact of faith-based institutions, and PEPFAR’s ‘anti-prostitution pledge’, on HIV/AIDS has been discussed (NSWP, 2011 Avert, 2013). 

Title 
Monitoring who enters the sex trade.
Point 

By including sex workers under a legal framework regulatory rules can be imposed on who enters the profession, such as is found in Senegal. The introduction of Senegal’s Identity Card means frequent health checks are required upon registration to be a prostitute. Additionally, the use of children and youths within the sex industry can be controlled.

Global estimations of HIV/AIDS show young people are at highest risk. The UNDP (2013) called for a legal framework able to ensure the protection of children and youths. Regulation and monitoring is the only way to do so.

Counterpoint 

The inclusion of youths and children misses out a crucial component - poverty. Busza (2006) identifies three forms of ‘sexual exchange’: sex work, transactional sex, and survival sex. Children are often recruited into the sex trade as a result of poverty, desires for consumption, and a lack of social support.

The ”sugar daddy” phenomenon across Africa is a case in point. Older men are able to entice young women, and children, through false promises and material products[1].

Without providing key necessities, and alternatives to meet needs, practices will be driven further underground and youngsters placed at greater risk.

[1] For examples see: IRIN, 2013a; 2013b. 

Title 
Gender equality.
Point 

Engaging in sex work is a choice; a reflection of individual agency, whereby control is granted over their own body. One has the right to choose how they use their body; therefore legalising sex work legitimising a woman’s, or man’s, right over their body and sexuality.

Counterpoint 

Gender inequality, hierarchies and violence, will become legalised[1]. Across Africa, women account for a higher proportion of the population living with HIV - gender inequalities are a key driver of the epidemic. For example, patriarchal structures encourage polygamy in marriage; and women’s roles in the reproductive sphere forces them into the caregiver role when someone in the household gets HIV/AIDS.

The legalisation of sex work will ensure the epidemic continues to ‘feminise’. Women will become commodified, meeting male demands and desires, within a unequal gender society.

[1] Further readings on the debate of gender and sex work see: Richter, 2012.

Title 
The market framework: sex work is an industry.
Point 

Sex work needs to be understood as a market-based industry. Sex workers are influenced by supply and demand[1]. It needs to be questioned both who, what, and why sex workers are forced into sexual exchanges and alternatively, why demand is found.

The legalisation of sex work focuses on the supply-side - potentially ensuring safer, and just, practices for sex workers. However, demand is not resolved. First, legalization does not ensure customers are tested for HIV/AIDS and take precautions. Legalisation may not change behaviour or attitudes. Second, legalization may increase demand through sex tourism, commercial trafficking or exploitation. What drives the sex industry? Legalisation will result in expanding the sex industry, as seen in the 25% increase in the Netherlands following legalisation (Daley, 2001). In Uganda, condom use declines with more regular customers (Morris et al, 2009).

We need to ask what should be included within a legal framework - supply, demand; brothels, customers, or sex workers?

[1] The ‘Swedish model’ rolled out in Europe is based on tackling demand. The legal reforms have been set to target the demand for prostitution through its criminalisation. 

Counterpoint 

Legalising sex work means control and regulation can be imposed on all aspects of the industry. Legalization ensures the sex workers are recognised as citizens, and workers, with rights. It does not preclude similar action relating to the demand aspect.

Title 
The causality is wrong.
Point 

Legalisation doesn’t prevent HIV/AIDS transmission, safe sex, or effective regulation. Workers need to be taught about safe sex; safe sex needs to be legalised; and HIV transmission criminalised. National governments need to concentrate on providing access to prevention tools - such as condoms.

Legalisation should not suddenly be announced by government but only done if it is what sex workers want and is the best option for them, this can be done through consolations with groups such as the Global Network of Sex Workers Projects(see NSWP, 2013), to help formulate policy that will work for everyone

Counterpoint 

Criminalising HIV transmission puts human rights in greater jeopardy. The stigmatisation of HIV/AIDS will remain prominent. The acceptance, and inclusion, of sex workers will become further marginalised as they become symbols of risk, disease, and transmission. This is something no sex worker would want. Countless articles from Ghana, Zimbabwe, and South Africa suggest public support legalising sex work (i.e. see Ghana Web, 2013).

Title 
Legalization leaves ‘risk’ in the hands of the worker.
Point 

Legalising sex as work, puts the burden of risk to the sex workers themselves; and having its basis from European law models raises questions over applicability across Africa. Although, in theory, a legal framework will enhance a duty of rights and a voice for workers, it also becomes the individual who need to be aware of rights, safe practices, and security risks. Legalisation means individuals become responsible. However, when considering how youths are lured into cities, and workers enter the profession following promised opportunities, is that ‘just’? Before legalising the profession individuals need to be granted choices to not engage in such practices. The family relations forcing migration and prostitution need evaluation. How much power can national legislation have when traditional, local, and family power relations limit choices to enter sex work? Will state actors follow laws when sex work remains culturally unacceptable? Further, legalization needs to be met with opportunities to exit the industry.       

Counterpoint 

By legalising sex work the duty, and ethics, of care are granted to national bodies. The state is able to intervene and act when the rights of sex workers are identified as being breached. The individual self becomes empowered, and integrated into, a legal framework.

Bibliography 

Aids Alliance, ‘Senegal’, Aids Alliance Regions, 2013, http://www.aidsalliance.org/linkingorganisationdetails.aspx?id=4

Busza, J. ‘For Love or Money: The Role of Exchange in Young People’s Sexual Relationships’, in Ingham, R., and Aggleton, P (Eds.), Promoting Young People’s Sexual Health: International Perspectives, Routledge, London, 2006.

Daley, S. ‘New Rights for Dutch Prostitutes, but No Gain’, The New York Times, 2001, http://www.nytimes.com/2001/08/12/world/new-rights-for-dutch-prostitutes-but-no-gain.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

GhanaWeb, ‘Legalise Sex Trade - Prostitutes Begs Mahama’, GhanaWeb Online, 2013, http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/artikel.php?ID=289218

GHO (Global Health Observatory), ‘HIV/AIDS: Global Situations and Trends’,World Health Organisation, 2013,  http://www.who.int/gho/hiv/en/index.html

Morris, N, C., Morris, R, S., and Ferguson, G, A. ‘Sexual Behaviour of Female Sex Workers and Access to Condoms in Kenya and Uganda on the Trans-Africa Highway’, AIDS Behaviour, 2009, 5, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18665445

Pruss-Ustun, A., Wolf, J., Driscoll, T., Degenhardt, L., Neira, M., and Calleja, G, M, J. ‘HIV due to Female Sex Work: Regional and Global Estimates’, PLos One, 2013, http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0063476

OSF (Open Society Foundation), ‘Criminalising Condoms’, Open Society Foundations, 2012, http://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/reports/criminalizing-condoms

Wikipedia, ‘Prostitution in Africa’, 2013, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prostitution_in_Africa

WHO (World Health Organisation), ‘Global Health Observatory Data Repository: African Region’, 2011, http://apps.who.int/gho/data/node.country.regionAFR?lang=en

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