The public will get the chance to have their say on whether adult prostitution should be legalised after the Department of Justice released a report by the South African Law Reform Commission yesterday.
Minister of Justice Michael Masutha said the government was not constitutionally obliged to change the law‚ which criminalises sex work. The aim of the report – handed to the department in 2014 – was to consider the need for reform.
In its findings‚ the commission said prostitution was driven by poverty‚ inequality and unemployment‚ but recommended that the law remain unchanged because it could create “an extremely dangerous cultural shift”‚ Masutha said.
“The report indicates that exploitation‚ particularly of women‚ is inherent in prostitution and depends on contingent external factors related to gender violence‚ inequality and poverty. And that such exploitation does not arise merely in response to the legislative framework.”
The report presented two legislative options: retaining a criminalised legal framework‚ with the opportunity for people in prostitution to “divert” out of the criminal justice system to help them leave the industry; and criminalisation of “all role-players in prostitution, with the exception of the person providing the sexual service”.
The second option is based on a Swedish model and is in line with recommendations by women’s rights group Embrace Dignity.
Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge‚ the NGO’s director‚ said the recommendation was driven by what they had witnessed following engagement with prostituted and trafficked people.
“This is why we vocally support a partial decriminalisation model as part of a comprehensive set of interventions to address violence against women‚ patriarchy and gender inequality‚” she said.
“However‚ we are not suggesting a cookie-cutter approach but rather an amended form of this law which also takes into consideration the socioeconomic and constitutional context.”
Advocacy group Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Task force‚ or Sweat‚ believes total decriminalisation of sex work is the best way to deal with prostitution‚ and that the findings in the law reform commission report are outdated.
“We call on the government: listen to the evidence‚ listen to sex workers‚ listen to civil society organisations‚ listen to public health institutions and decriminalise sex work now,” Sweat director Sally Shackleton said.